New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
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Lamar's the star
31 picks went by in the 2018 NFL draft before the Baltimore Ravens moved back into round one and took Lamar Jackson. The 2016 Heisman trophy winner must've been quietly simmering in the green room as Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen went team after team chose to let him sit.
He's certainly played like he's holding that grudge. He got to start midway through last season in place of Joe Flacco and saved coach John Harbaugh's job by leading Baltimore to the playoffs. They won six of their closing seven games and Flacco took his "elite" talent to Denver.
It was his rushing ability that made the difference. The Ravens play in those closing months troubled NFL running feats that had stood since the 1970s. Everyone expected them to keep that up this season, even coach Harbaugh - at least according to his preseason smoke-and-mirrors act.
But Jackson's shown this season he can pass too. He's not Aaron Rodgers, but his speed, strength and balance on the move creates all sorts of problems for defences. And he's got some weapons this year. Mark Andrews at tight end has become his favourite target, and rookie Marquise Brown brought a deep threat when healthy, while veteran Willie Snead has made some plays too.
They haven't abandoned their rushing identity though. They added Mark Ingram from the Saints and he's collected 470 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season. Jackson remains their primary rushing threat according to yardage, however, with 576 yards accumulated on 83 attempts - that's 6.9 yards per carry.
If he continues at that pace, he could figure in MVP discussions come season's end. Putting it up to the champion Pats in primetime on Sunday night would be the perfect way to signal his intent.
New England's case for the defence
That'll be easier said than done.
Readers who play fantasy football may be aware that only Christian McCaffrey, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson have scored more points than the Patriots defence this season in classic scoring leagues. On the field, they've scored more real points in games on turnovers than they've allowed opponents to register in total this season.
Another way to look at it: If the collective bodies of the New England defence were mashed into one person, they'd be in the running for the MVP award at this stage of the season. They're that good.
It has to be said, though, that their brutal efficiency has been boosted by a schedule constituted by patsy after patsy.
The toughest match-up they've had was the Steelers in Week 1. We've seen how far below par they are this year. Miami, the Jets, the Giants, Washington, even listing this rollcall of alsorans I feel weary. Sure, the Bills gave them a game in Buffalo and the Browns have talent, but their coaching staff is incapable of using it and were shown up last week.
That run of games gets you to 8-0 this season.
The Patriots have won most of these games comfortably, despite regular changes and injuries at receiver. Surprise, surprise, there are signs of 42-year-old Tom Brady not quite being at his best - it feels like been saying that for a decade - but he hasn't needed to be, and may not until the playoffs.
However, this game is the first of a much tougher run for the Super Bowl holders. They leave Baltimore for Philadelphia next week, then Dallas go to Foxboro before New England have another road trip to Houston, and then they play a home rematch of last year's AFC title game against the Chiefs in Week 14.
It's hard to see them coming out unscathed from that run despite the mammoth performance of their defence.
And that clipping of their wings could come this week. Even in their 27-13 win against Cleveland, they allowed Nick Chubb to collect 131 yards on the ground at 6.5 yards per carry. John Harbaugh has to love the sound of that.
Bill Belichick will have a plan for Jackson this week, but the Ravens shouldn't give up points as easily as other teams either. Marcus Peters' arrival into the secondary has given them a much-needed lift on defence, as they'd been surprisingly weak through the opening stretch.
And while New England's defence is making plays and scores, the offence ranks 25th in yards per play on the season. The Browns victory hinged on two D/ST touchdowns. Baltimore should take note; being disciplined will be enough to keep them in this.
There's plenty of appeal in the 1.9310/11 available on them at +3.
On the total of 45, it makes sense to go under again this week. We expect the Ravens to run it a lot, and New England aren't the offensive powerhouse they once were. The clock looks like a friend to both teams here, and if they keep it ticking, the under looks likely at 1.8910/11.
For a scoring interest, Mark Ingram is a clear option if the game goes as predicted here, but the prices reflect that at 6/5 - he can be combined in a Same Game Multi of just under 15/2 with Handicap and Total Points picks.
For a longer price, there's more options on New England's side. Mo Sanu will be playing just his second game as a Patriot having been traded from the Falcons a fortnight ago. He'll have spent the last couple of weeks getting up to speed and there should be an opportunity for him to impress with Josh Gordon on his way out the door, N'Keal Harry still unavailable and Julian Edelman still showing up on the injury report each week.
He's worth doing in the First TD and Anytime markets at 20/1 and 4/1 respectively.