Never take anything for granted when betting the NFL. That’s what the Baltimore Ravens taught us during their loss to Miami Thursday night. They also proved every team is vulnerable during the 2021 season.
Now, the Ravens will look to right the ship against a Chicago Bears team that’s as erratic as they come. Can Baltimore get things back on track? Or will the Bears keep their slim playoff hopes alive with an upset? Let’s break it down:
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- Opening line: Baltimore -6
- Current line: Baltimore -5
- Total: 45
Baltimore needs bounce back effort to keep up in AFC
Baltimore’s loss to Miami Thursday night was a result of a failure to adjust. Miami blitzed quarterback Lamar Jackson often, forcing him to think fast or be sacked. All Baltimore needed to do was throw a couple of screen passes to take advantage of Miami’s hot pursuit, but Greg Roman didn’t get the memo and Baltimore’s offense scuffled after a hot start early.
It’s hard to gauge how good this Ravens team really is. Two of their wins came in overtime and another came on a miraculous Justin Tucker field goal against Detroit as time expired. Their home wins over Kansas City and Los Angeles no longer look as great as initially expected.
It’s rare to say this in the John Harbaugh era, but Baltimore’s defense has been a problem this season. The unit ranks 25th in defensive DVOA, 24th in pass defense DVOA and 15th in rush defense DVOA.
There are a couple of reasons why this unit has regressed. The first is injuries to key players in the secondary, most notably cornerback Marcus Peters. The second is Baltimore’s inability to turn a high pressure rate into more sacks. The Ravens have generated pressure on 28.5% of opposing dropbacks—the second-highest rate in the league, however they have only 19 sacks to show for it. Baltimore needs to get home more often to take some pressure off their back four.
Defensive coordinator Don Martindale puts an emphasis on blitzing to generate pressure. The Ravens blitz at the third-highest rate in the league. That strategy could pay off against rookie quarterback Justin Fields and an offensive line that’s allowed a league-high 33 sacks this season.
Offensively, Baltimore has proven that running backs aren’t overly important, as they rank third in rushing DVOA despite losing J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards to season long injuries. Lamar Jackson is having another good season and could benefit from further improvement from Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman. The less Sammy Watkins plays, the better.
Baltimore’s offensive line has also been uncharacteristically poor. The absence of tackle Ronnie Stanley obviously hurts, as this patchwork unit has allowed 28 sacks this season.
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Bears hope for bye week boost
The Bears are the definition of a perfectly mediocre NFL team. They don’t do anything particularly well. They are capable of beating teams at or below their level, and struggle mightily against teams that are clearly better than them. Just look at the teams they’ve beaten and where they currently rank in overall DVOA. For comparison’s sake, Chicago is 26th in overall DVOA.
- Cincinnati: 5-4, 25th in DVOA
- Detroit: 0-8-1, 29th in DVOA
- Las Vegas: 5-4, 23rd in DVOA
The only hope Chicago has at the moment is in the form of Fields, who took some big strides in Chicago’s last game against Pittsburgh. After a shaky start, Fields got it together and nearly staged an impressive comeback. The Ohio State product has the tools to become a legitimate dual-threat QB in the NFL. He just needs a lot more help.
Chicago’s offensive line is arguably the worst in the league. Their receiving corps is thin and lacks much talent outside of Allen Robinson, who is apparently washed up, and Darnell Mooney. And the coaching staff still doesn’t seem to know how to tailor a game plan around Fields’ strengths. But don’t worry, Matt Nagy will probably be done after this season.
If Chicago does have a strength, it’s running the ball. The Bears rank 14th in rushing DVOA, but are below league average in line yards, power success rate, and stuff rate. This unit needs an overhaul if Fields is to reach his full potential.
Defensively, the Bears first need to get Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson back healthy. While their statuses are still in doubt, Nagy said he was “hoping” the two would return after a full week of rest. While Chicago has gotten to the passer 25 times this season, it could struggle mightily against Baltimore’s rushing attack. Chicago ranks 28th in defensive adjusted line yards and 21st in defensive rushing DVOA.
This is far from my favorite play on the Week 11 betting board, and while I’m a little nervous that this number is moving in Chicago’s direction, I feel Baltimore is the better play here for a few reasons:
First off, I suspect Baltimore’s blitz-heavy scheme will have a ton of success against a rookie quarterback and Chicago’s terrible offensive line. On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s run game should be able to get what it wants against a lackluster Bears front seven.
Finally, there’s a huge coaching advantage for Baltimore between John Harbaugh and Matt Nagy. The bye week hasn’t helped Nagy’s teams in the past, as Chicago is 0-3 ATS since 2018 after the bye week. He’s also just 4-8 ATS with a rest advantage and 6-7 as a home underdog.
Chicago has struggled when stepping up in class. While I don’t view Baltimore as an elite team, they’re certainly better than Chicago. This line is already at -4.5 in some spots, so I’m content with waiting and snagging the shortest number possible on Baltimore.
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Matt Barbato is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Matt, check out his archive and follow him @RealMattBarbato.