Tonight's football game has all the makings of a classic.
Two AFC North rivals will kick off at 8 pm EST, and both teams have something to prove.
The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) must show they can beat a winning team. So far this season, the Ravens have stumbled badly against good competition. Baltimore has lost to the Steelers (twice), as well as the Patriots, Titans, and Chiefs. On the verge of playoff elimination with a few more losses, the Ravens need this win to solidify a berth once the highly-competitive AFC starts playoff games. Indeed, at the moment, Baltimore would miss the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Cleveland Browns (9-3) are virtually assured of a playoff spot. However, a win tonight gives this long-suffering franchise confidence that's been lacking for, not just years, but decades. The Browns have been the NFL's laughingstock for a very long time, and beating the physical Ravens for what would be a 10th win of the season could infuse this young team with enormous confidence.
Courtesy of SPREADS.CA, here are the odds on tonight's game:
At first glance, it doesn't make much sense for a 7-5 road team to be favored by -3 over a 9-3 home team. The prevailing reasoning for Ravens' backers is – this is a much more meaningful game for Baltimore, which is fighting for its playoff life. Meanwhile, the Browns could lose this game and will still likely finish second in the division race behind Pittsburgh, and also earn a Wild Card entry into the playoffs. So, it's desperation time for Baltimore.
However, the Ravens have lost five games, including three of their last four. Here's a thought: Perhaps the talent simply isn't there to take this team across the finish line and make the playoffs. Ravens bettors think there's some magical switch that can be flipped, and head coach John Harbaugh can revert into the 14-2 team that was the NFL's best a year ago. But that doesn't appear to be realistic.
Instead, the Ravens will have to win this one in the trenches. That requires the defense to shut down the Browns' potent rushing attack. It also means dominating time-of-possession and wearing down the Browns with long drives that worked so well in Week 1, when Baltimore destroyed Cleveland in the season opener, winning 38-6.
Some Ravens fan sites aren't just predicting a win. At least one is forecasting a blowout win for Baltimore.
As tempting as it may be to take Cleveland plus 3, the wiser play is probably taking the UNDER 45.5 in tonight's game. Unfortunately, the total has dropped from 47 earlier in the week, so many bettors see value in the UNDER.
Reasoning goes like this: The Browns have risen to the top ranks of the NFL because they've made major adjustments, particularly on offense. This team now runs the ball more, resulting in a #2 ranking in rushing. That will burn up clock time.
Oh, and the #1 rushing team in the NFL is – drum roll please – Baltimore. More clock eating.
So, we get two great rushing teams playing a division rivalry game with playoff implications on MNF. That spells a more conservative game plan for both teams, likely to keep the game clock moving and keep the game UNDER this number.
The Ravens haven't broken 24+ points in five weeks, and Browns last three at home have gone UNDER the total. Looks like a compelling reason to see those trends continue on Monday night.