Monday Night Football betting preview. Chiefs vs Ravens

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Monday Night Football in Week 3 features what should be one of the best matchups of the entire season.

In one corner: the Kansas City Chiefs — last year’s Super Bowl champions — featuring the 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes. They boast arguably the best passing attack in the league, finishing second in Football Outsiders’ pass offense DVOA in 2019. They’re off to a 2-0 start after besting the Houston Texans on Opening Night and squeaking out a three-point victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.

In the other corner: the Baltimore Ravens — last year’s regular season champions — featuring the 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. They boast arguably the best rushing attack in the league, and they ranked first in overall DVOA in 2019. They’re also off to a 2-0 start after cruising to comfortable victories over the Cleveland Browns and Texans through the first two weeks.

It truly does not get much better than this.

The only thing that could make this contest any more enjoyable is the prospect of winning some money while watching it. Let’s break down this heavyweight clash to try and identify some potential betting value.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) — 54.0 total

Moneylines: Chiefs +150/Ravens -175

This line initially opened at Ravens -2.5, and the sharp bettors pounced on it immediately. That drove this line up to 3.5, which is where it has stayed for the majority of the week. You can still find some 3.0s out there if you’re interested in the Ravens but don’t want to lay the hook, but they’re going to cost you around -120. (Editor’s note, there are some books currently offering +3.5 on KC)

After that initial flurry of action, most of the bets have landed on the defending champs. They’re currently garnering 66% of the spread bets, and those bets have accounted for 63% of the spread dollars. It’s possible that this line could dip back to three points if that activity continues up until game time, but I think this line will probably stay where it is.

So who has the edge in this matchup? The previous head-to-head results definitely favor the Chiefs. Jackson has lost just three games through his career during the regular season, but two of those have come against Mahomes and the Chiefs. In other words, Jackson is 0-2 against the Chiefs and 21-1 vs. the rest of the league.

That includes a meeting in 2019, which the Chiefs won by a score of 33-28. Kansas City put up more than 500 yards of total offense, while Jackson posted one of his worst games of the entire season. He completed just 51.2% of his passes and was sacked three times, and he added just 46 rushing yards on the ground. The Chiefs took a 23-6 lead into the locker room at half time and the Ravens were simply never able to catch up.

That said, that game came all the way back in Week 3. The Ravens would also lose their following game to the Browns in a classic let down spot before reeling off 11 straight wins. Simply put, the Ravens weren’t the full-fledged monster that they would ultimately become at the time of their last matchup.

Baltimore would go on to finish last season as the best team during the regular season by a pretty significant margin. They were first in offensive DVOA, including first on the ground and first through the air. They were also fifth in defensive DVOA. Add it all up, and the gap between the Ravens and the Saints — who finished second in overall DVOA — was nearly three times larger than the gap between the Saints and the 49ers (who finished fifth). A lot of that was forgotten because of the Ravens’ disappointing loss during the postseason, but this team was nothing short of a juggernaut last year.

So what have the Ravens done since then? They started by adding Calais Campbell in the offseason, who is still one of the best defensive linemen in the game. He finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of 90.2 in 2019, which ranked third among interior defenders.

They followed that up by selecting Patrick Queen and J.K. Dobbins in the NFL Draft, and both players figure to make an impact as rookies. Queen has already gotten off to a great start — he has one sack and one forced fumble through just two games — while Dobbins adds to the Ravens’ embarrassment of riches in the run game.

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Baltimore is off to another fantastic start from a DVOA perspective in 2020. They currently rank first overall DVOA, fifth on offense, and third on defense. Jackson also appears to have made strides as a passer, which should strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. He’s completed 77.6% of his passes to start the year, and his 11.4 adjusted yards per attempt trails only Russell Wilson’s mark of 11.8.

If Jackson has added the ability to dissect teams through the air to his prodigious talent as a runner, this team simply has no weaknesses.

While Kansas City is obviously no slouch, they can’t make the same claim. They have had one glaring weakness for most of the past few seasons: the inability to stop the run. They currently rank just 26th in rush defense DVOA after finishing 26th in that category in 2019.

That’s not a problem most weeks. Being weak against the run game is a flaw that can be hidden, particularly when your offense is as good as the Chiefs’. As long as they can hand their defense a lead, teams have no choice but to abandon the ground game and take to the air.

That said, playing the Ravens is not like playing most teams. They ran the ball on a whopping 54% of their offensive plays last season, which was the top mark in the league by a significant margin. They’ve run the ball on 54% of their plays to begin this season as well.

Part of that is due to the fact that the Ravens have played with a lot of leads over the past two years, but they still boast the seventh-highest run rate in one-score games this season per Sharp Football. They didn’t have the opportunity to run the ball as much as they would’ve liked vs. the Chiefs last season but expect them to try and punch them in the mouth in the trenches this week.

The Chiefs don’t have nearly the same type of mismatch to exploit when they have the ball on offense. Baltimore ranks third in pass defense DVOA and second in rush defense DVOA, so the Chiefs are going to have to earn every single yard.

The Ravens also benefit from the motivational edge in this contest. I am sure they have had this game circled on their schedule for months. Jackson has yet to beat Mahomes in his career, and he would obviously love to rectify that situation. If they lose again this week, plenty of talking heads will be flooding the airwaves with takes about Jackson’s inability to win the big game.

If I could’ve grabbed the Ravens at the initial line of -2.5, this would easily be my biggest play of the early season. As things stand, I’m still very interested in playing them at -3.5. They are the best team in football, they match up exceptionally well vs. the defending champs, and they have the added benefit of being a non-public team during a prime time contest.

Additionally, if you haven’t grabbed the Ravens yet to win the Super Bowl, this might be your last chance to do so at a good price. They are currently tied with the Chiefs as co-favorites on the DraftKings Sportsbook, but that likely won’t be the case if they win this week.

The Pick: Ravens -3.5

Player Prop Bets

Lamar Jackson Over 62.5 rushing yards (-112)

This one shouldn’t come as much of a surprise after reading the game breakdown. Jackson has averaged just 49.5 rushing yards through his first two games — and has generally expressed interest in running less this season — but I think this is a “kitchen sink” spot for the Ravens. I’m expecting Jackson to carry the ball as many times as needed this week to secure a victory, and that could mean a bunch of carries vs. a porous run defense.

Kansas City Chiefs’ Under

If the Ravens are able to control the ball on the ground today, that is going to result in a massive advantage in terms of time of possession. Winning the time of possession battle is probably overrated as far as winning the game, but it should result in a few less possessions for the Chiefs’ offense.

The Chiefs offense is already fighting an uphill battle vs. the Ravens defense, so they could be far less productive than usual.

With that in mind, I’m backing plenty of KC unders in this spot. Some of my particular favorites include:

  • Patrick Mahomes under 2.5 passing TDs (-149)
  • Sammy Watkins under 44.5 receiving yards (-115)
  • Tyreek Hill under 5.5 receptions (+100)

That said, I think you can pretty comfortably add to this list if you really want to fade the Chiefs’ offense.

Miles Boykin Over 2.5 receptions (-160)

Did you know that Boykin actually leads the Ravens’ WRs in snap percentage this season? He’s been on the field for 71.0% of the Ravens’ offensive plays compared to just 65.3% for Marquise Brown and 64.5% for Willie Snead. Most of that is due to his blocking ability, but the first step towards hitting an over is actually getting on the field.

Boykin has garnered nine targets through his first two games, which is tied with Mark Andrews for the second-highest mark on the team. He’s also caught at least three passes in both games to start the season, which makes this prop pretty appealing.

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