Well, it’s official. Most of the NFL “experts” you’ve heard on TV and the internet for the last, oh, I don’t know – 50 years? – have been absolutely full of crap.
What the Baltimore Ravens are doing with Lamar Jackson is the most exciting thing to happen to the National Football League in years, and not just because Jackson is thrilling to watch. Far from throwing-in a few token Read-Option plays like the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks do, skipper John Harbaugh is creating a whole new paradigm of NFL tactics.
The Ravens are not simply running a “college” scheme. They’re running a Sun Belt scheme, straight out of crafty mid-major FBS programs like Georgia Southern. Paul Johnson, who coached GaSo before spending a decade at Georgia Tech, showed up at Baltimore’s 2019-20 training camp as a triple-option talisman. Jackson’s offense rotates 4 men into the backfield and earns 1st downs through deception and plus-1 blocking with the former Louisville QB in charge of tricking an unblocked end or linebacker. Once the deadly ground attack has diced-up a defense and defensive backs begin cheating toward the line of scrimmage, Jackson kills them with aggressive passes to open WRs.
Boomer Esiason called the Read-Option “crap” in 2011. Pete Prisco hoped the NFL’s option-QBs would get injured in 2013. Mike Mayock said “everyone will change the channel” in 2014. Colin Cowherd has spent the 5 years since (and decades prior) trashing every dual-threat quarterback he sees. Ever think you know more than those guys just watching from an easy chair? Maybe you do. Lamar Jackson has given them all amnesia – but it’s hard to overlook how stone-cold wrong they’ve all been.
I haven’t learned a whole lot from my easy chair, but I know a nice point-spread market when I see it. Baltimore is 10-2 without having been seriously bothered in a majority of 10 victories. Sunday’s hosts of the Ravens, the Buffalo Bills, are an underrated squad which has been excellent straight-up and ATS in 2019. Understandably, line-movement has favored Buffalo after the spread opened at Ravens (-7).
The action on Buffalo is understandable…but that doesn’t mean it’s the right bandwagon to get on.
Who: Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
When: Sunday, December 8th, 1 PM EST
Where: New Era Field, Buffalo, NY
Lines: BAL (-6.5) at BUF (+6.5) / O/U Total: (43)
Make no mistake – the Buffalo Bills are a quality football club.
Save for a couple of stinker-losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns in mid-autumn, the 9-3 Bills have been everything that a winning NFL team should be. Stubborn, steady defense, consistent OL play, an up-and-coming quarterback in Mountain West product Josh Allen, and excellent motivation from head coach Sean McDermott. Buffalo doesn’t lose to bad teams often – when an opponent is vulnerable like the Dallas Cowboys in late November, or just plain lousy like the Dolphins, Redskins, or Broncos, the Bills take care of business. That’s a sign of good coaching.
It’s been a harder row to hoe against tough teams, however. Not that Buffalo has played a slew of winning clubs so far, but the Bills’ scant few outcomes vs top-half NFL teams haven’t been all that promising. Buffalo held Tom Brady without a TD pass in a 16-10 loss back in September, though an aging Tom Terrific’s decline as a dominant passer hadn’t been ascertained by then. Tennessee limited Buffalo quite effectively on the ground in early October, though Devin Singletary hadn’t yet emerged to spell Frank Gore and give the Bills another threat out of the backfield.
In the big picture the Buffalo Bills simply have no played a team comparable to the beast visiting town this weekend.
Baltimore doesn’t just look like a solid contender, but like a dominant NFL team which can expect to win by 2+ touchdowns on any given Sunday provided that the ball doesn’t bounce funny. An active 8-game winning streak includes a 2-touchdown win over the Seahawks, a 17-point victory over the Patriots, and 3 blow-out triumphs in a row in the weeks to follow. Jackson is on his way to a record-setting 1500+ yard rushing season and the Raven offense has rushed for more yards than the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints combined.
Baltimore’s “diamond” formation ground game is so explosive that Jackson isn’t asked to pass as often as other QBs, but he still looks like a future (current?) MVP when putting the ball in the air, passing for 25 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions on just over 300 attempts.
San Francisco has been the only defense to slow down the Ravens in late autumn, but it just so happens that the Ravens-49ers scrum happened last week. Bettors don’t have a fabulous-looking final score fresh in memory as they’re considering ATS bets on the favorite – that could have as much to do with the line-movement as anything.
Buffalo has a worthy defensive line that has gotten better with the emergence of Shaq Lawson in recent days. Lawson, however, will be optioned-off as opposed to blocked when the play comes his way. The Bills don’t have as many dominant athletes on defense as the 49ers, and a steady cross-wind (forecast in the 15-20 MPH range) will help a confident Raven defense limit Allen and his receivers. Buffalo can grind-out some 1st downs with Singletary early-on but it may be the calm before the storm.
Bettors can’t wrap their heads around what Harbaugh and Georgia Southern, er, Baltimore has going. Not yet, anyway. The last dying remnants of the “running QBs are a bad idea” crowd will be chanting the demise of Jackson while sinking underwater never to be heard from again, like the “This is Not Happening” scene from Erik the Viking.
Rest assured, it’s happening – and the NFL won’t ever be the same.
Take Baltimore to cover (-6.5) in Buffalo.