It’s almost football time! It’s at least a day earlier than usual, but here are my conference game picks since all the info is already out there.
Ravens at Patriots: Everyone is describing this as the irresistible force and the immovable object, and that’s pretty accurate. By my rankings the Patriots have the league’s 3rd best offense and the Ravens have the 3rd best defense. On the other hand, you have the 15th offense (for the Ravens) going against the 16th defense (for the Pats). I don’t generally believe in the ‘similar games’ analysis, since what you’re really doing is just cutting the sample size dramatically, but let’s see what it says. The Patriots played the Steelers (the #1 defense) and the Dolphins (#7). They went 2-1 in those games, losing to the Steelers but beating the Dolphins twice. Of course, the Steelers were also the 6th best team in my rankings and the game was in Pittsburgh. So the Patriots are capable of beating a good defense. The Ravens played the Chargers (the #7 offense) and the Texans (#9). They went 2-1 in those games, losing at San Diego. So the Ravens can beat good offenses, although they haven’t played one as good as the Patriots. Seems like everything here is a toss-up, but of course the Patriots have home field and we need to combine the numbers the right way. Luigi thinks the Patriots win by about 7.5, 73.4% of the time. Bovada has the line at -9, but many other places have it at -7. So Luigi would take the Ravens at -9 but stay away at a touchdown. The moneyline is -330/+265, which Luigi would stay away from. And I would stay away from Luigi’s predictions on the total, but it likes the under against a number of 50.5.
Giants at 49ers: These guys have already met, and the 49ers won 27-20. The Giants have been lauded for their defense in some places, but I have them as a much better offensive than defensive squad (that story has also been tossed around, but I think mostly so that there can be two offense vs. defense games; I have the Giants with a top-10 offense but nothing spectacular). Outside of that loss, the only other good defensive team they played was the Dolphins, a game they won by 3 at home. On the other hand, the 49ers have played the Saints, Lions, and Eagles and beat them all. The 49ers defense has handled better offenses than the Giants’. And while the 49ers don’t have a great offense, it was actually about average. Overall, the 49ers are slightly better team and playing at home. Luigi has the 49ers as a toss-up winner, at about 50.5% and by 2 points (there’s some disagreement there, but the 49ers are favored in both cases). Against a line of San Fran -3, Luigi would take the Giants in a close call. Bovada doesn’t have a moneyline, but it seems to be tight, generally about -130/+120. Under those numbers, Luigi would take the Giants. Luigi also likes the over against 42.
Bill Simmons has his picks up; he’s going with the Patriots -7 and the Giants +2.5. I have those as far too odds-on to make a pick, but going with the procedure of picking every game just like Bill, I would side with him. So I’ll be stuck a game behind him for the playoffs regardless of how the games turn out. In terms of how likely those picks are, the line has been moving against the Patriots, so that isn’t a good sign. The NFC game has been pretty steady, but it’s been moving a bit towards the Giants, so that looks potentially more solid.