TOWSON, Md. - The Ravens will go into Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts as a 9.5 underdog to the New England Patriots. Why?
As the point spread was announced Monday, Ravens fans in our newsroom, across the street at Starbucks and in the supermarket a block away asked the question as they looked at each other in dismay.
So far in the postseason, the Ravens have averaged two yards more in total offense than the Patriots. Critics will argue the stat isn't exactly a fair comparison as the Patriots had a bye the first week of the playoffs and only played one game. The Ravens played two.
Ok... So how do the two teams match up using the regular season as a guide?
The Patriots are top in the league in total offensive yards while Baltimore holds the 16
th spot. The two teams are separated by nearly 80 yards per game on average. The Patriots are ninth in the league in rushing defense, limiting opponents to about 102 yards per game. The ground game is arguably the Ravens' strongest stat as the team averages 118 yards per game from the backfield, narrowly missing the league's top 10 list.
In total defense, the Patriots limited opponents to 20.7 points per game and 373.2 yards. The Ravens held regular season opponents to 21.5 points per game and an average of about 350 yards.
So that must be it. The folks that create the lines are basing the line on the fact that statistically, the Patriots are a better offensive team. The two defenses are negated in line-making as the stats are so similar. Normally, a team is given a three-point advantage in such a game when playing at home.
So, the 9.5 doesn't sound so bad now, right?
While a little insulted, fans say it's not a concern.
Pat Nolte of Stoneleigh has been a Baltimore football fan since the days of the Colts in the Charm City. He sees the spread as more motivation for a team already coming to Foxborough with an agenda.
"It's a good thing," he said. "It gives the Ravens more motivation to shove it down their throats."
More insulting than the point spread, Nolte says, was the national coverage in print media about the Ravens, better, a lack of coverage in his eyes.
A Flacco believer since the day he was signed, Nolte says if Flacco is given time to throw, plays will be made. He also has faith in Ray Lewis and his ability to motivate the team, no matter the pregame predictions.
"Ray is like the heart of the team," Nolte says. "He's the one that did it."
While teams normally play better at home, Tom Brady's passing percentage is lower in Foxborough. Similar to most quarterbacks in the league, his passing percentage gets worse once he gets behind in games. It's not rocket science. A pick six is damaging to your rating when it happens.
A motivated Ravens defense led by Ray Lewis could be the "spread buster."
Nolte isn't the only fan that believes it.
Stacey Bradford of Towson calls the 9.5 point spread "inspiring."
"It was 9-10 against Denver, and we kicked their butt," Bradford said Monday after hearing the news. "…I think it's just spice."
The Denver Broncos had the second-best defense in the league going into the game against the Ravens as they held opponents to an average of 18 points and about 291 offensive yards. The Ravens scored 38 Saturday and did it against Pro Bowl selections Von Miller (linebacker) and Champ Bailey (cornerback).
It's a feat that the Patriots have noted, no matter the spread. Is Brady disappointed that he isn't getting a matchup with Peyton Manning that had many NFL fans salivating?
If he is, you couldn't tell from post-game remarks Sunday.
"I think the two best teams are in the finals," Brady said. "Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we. So, it's very fitting. We played them early in the year; they got us. We blew a pretty big lead there at the end. We're going to have to play our best game this week."
The Ravens scooted by the Patriots, 31-30 when they met in September. Last year, in the same point in the playoffs, the Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20. The teams are 1-1 in the post season all-time. In regular season play, prior to this season's win, the Patriots bested the Ravens in six straight meetings.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh says it's created a rivalry.
"We've been there a number of times. It's definitely grown into quite a rivalry we would like to say," Harbaugh said Monday. "I don't know how they feel about that, but we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots – their coaches, starting with their head coach, Bill Belichick; their quarterback, Tom Brady; their special teams, Scott O'Brien. They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition. It's always a huge challenge for us, but it's one that we are excited about and we look forward to."