It's never too early to start thinking about potential playoff tiebreakers, and I believe Sunday's matchup between Oakland and Baltimore could have AFC wild-card implications down the road.
I didn't expect Denver to repeat in the AFC West this season but also wasn't expecting QB Trevor Siemian to play as well as he has at quarterback. And with that defense as good as ever, you'd have to call the Broncos the team to beat out there again, and they lead the Raiders and Chiefs by a game. Incidentally, with a pretty easy schedule for a while, the Broncos could well be unbeaten when they visit Oakland in Week 9.
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The Ravens are surprise leaders of the AFC North, although I still expect Pittsburgh to win that. I suppose you have to call Philadelphia the most surprising 3-0 team, but Baltimore is a close second. I'm still very skeptical because the team's wins are over Buffalo, Cleveland and Jacksonville, who have combined for a single victory. The Ravens won't likely be underdogs in a game until Week 6 at the Giants as next week they host Washington.
Raiders at Ravens Betting Story Lines
The Oakland defense was a major issue the first two weeks -- the Raiders had allowed more yards in their first two games than any team had in its first two since at least 1940 -- and I'm not sure anything was solved in Week 3's 17-10 win at Tennessee because the Titans aren't exactly explosive. What's going on with defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack? Last year he made history by being named a Pro Bowler at both positions. This year, Mack has just 13 tackles and no sacks. The window is open to win his first Defensive Player of the Year Award with the bad news for Houston three-time winner J.J. Watt. But Mack needs to get going.
The Raiders did force three Titans turnovers so that's a positive. Two of those were by newcomers, linebacker Bruce Irvin (forced a fumble) and cornerback Sean Smith (interception). Smith had been terrible the first two weeks. The Raiders' first-round pick this year, safety Karl Joseph, had only played special teams the first two weeks but had 13 tackles in his defensive debut. Derek Carr had a so-so game, completing 21 of 35 for 249 yards, a TD and a pick. Michael Crabtree caught eight balls for 102 yards and has been reborn in Oakland. Running back Latavius Murray scored a touchdown for the third straight game. Sebastian Janikowski connected on his 53rd field goal of 50-or-more yards, setting the all-time NFL record.
Baltimore was due some good fortune this season after being injury-ravaged and losing pretty much every close game last year on the way to a 5-11 record. And fortune has smiled on the Ravens so far in the franchise's first 3-0 start since 2009. The Ravens could have easily lost against the Bills and Browns and really should have lost last week in Jacksonville but prevailed 19-17. Justin Tucker's 54-yard field goal with 1:02 left was the difference. Baltimore turned the ball over three straight times in the fourth quarter, but the Jags kept shooting themselves in the foot and managed just 3 total points in the quarter.
Joe Flacco did set a team record in completing 21 straight passes in the game at one point but otherwise wasn't very good, throwing for 214 yards and two picks. He did rush for a score. Steve Smith caught eight passes for 87 yards. The defense played well with three interceptions, four sacks and just 216 yards allowed. Baltimore defense ranks No. 2 in the NFL and Oakland's offense is No. 2.
Baltimore leads the all-time series 7-2 and hasn't lost at home. The teams met in Week 2 last year in Oakland and the Raiders won 37-33. Carr hit Seth Roberts on a 12-yard TD pass with 26 seconds left. A Ravens penalty wiped out a Baltimore interception earlier in that drive. Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns, with both Crabtree and Amari Cooper topping 100 yards and catching a score. Flacco threw for 384 yards, two TDs and a pick. Smith caught 10 passes for 150 yards.
Raiders at Ravens Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Baltimore is a 3-point favorite (-125) with a total of 46. On the moneylines, the Ravens are -175 and Raiders +155. On the alternate lines, the Ravens are -3.5 (+100) and -2.5 (-150). Oakland is 2-1 against the spread this season (2-0 on road) and 2-1 "over/under" (1-1 on road). Baltimore is 2-1 ATS (1-0 at home) and 1-2 O/U (0-1 at home).
The Raiders are 5-0 ATS in their past five on the road. They are 7-2 ATS in their past nine vs. the AFC. But Oakland hasn't covered its past eight Week 4 games. Baltimore is 4-1 ATS in its past five vs. the AFC. But the Ravens have covered only two of their past 12 at home. The over is 5-1 in Oakland's past six after a win. The under is 4-1 in the Ravens' past six at home. The Raiders are 0-5 ATS in their past five in Baltimore.
Raiders at Ravens Betting Prediction
A few ties between these franchises. Among them: the Raiders lured offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele from Baltimore with a five-year, $58.5 million deal this past offseason, and Osemele has been worth the money thus far. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was the linebackers coach for Baltimore from 1999-2001, helping the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV.
Oakland is the better overall team in my opinion. But this is one of those tricky 10 a.m. Pacific time kickoffs. From what I can tell, the Raiders didn't stay on the East Coast following last week's game in Nashville. Some coaches like to do that. Give the 2.5 points and go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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