Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 10:00 AM EST. Odds subject to change.
Houston +9½ 110 over Baltimore
Baltimore, MD - ESPN
4:30 PM EST. At this point doesn't it feel a little disrespectful that oddsmakers are giving CJ Stroud and the Texans this many points? Or does the betting community all agree - the Ravens are just that damn good? Both can be true, but we can't get our minds off one side of that equation.
CJ Stroud and the Texans didn't just win last weekend, they blew the doors of Cleveland. Now home-field advantage matters and we know that the Browns had trouble on the road all season, especially in terms of allowing explosive plays. Yet it seemed like everyone was still shocked by what had just occurred. Tweets popped up constantly during the course of last week's Wildcard beatdown, propping up Stroud as "the next big thing" in the NFL, a fanbase stunned by how he and his team continue to disprove doubters. But at a certain point it's worth asking the question - why are we still surprised?
Stroud had moments where he stumbled this year - at Carolina and at Jersey come to mind - but when the Texans needed to step up and get a win to stay in the playoff race, they did. Videos surfaced of Demeco Ryans coaching his defense throughout their battle against the Browns, and it's clear to see why the dude was hired. Guys listen, his knowledge is deep and astute, and clearly he knows how to motivate his team. In that way the upstart Texans are constructed like the dynastic Patriots of the past, with a head coach who shines at preparing and leveling up his defense and a QB who can transform his offense into a high-octane machine every week. And in the clutch, they're at their best.
Ravens' supporters and fans are probably fuming reading this article, "Farley, you haven't even talked about our team yet, ya know, the AFC's #1 seed? Wtf, man!" Okay, but do we need to talk about Baltimore? We know what you know and what everyone knows at this point. The Ravens have been impeccable all year, it's why they earned home-field advantage, and both their offense and defense are functioning at a higher level than we've seen in a decade. They're as legit and as fierce as they've ever been, but does that mean they should be two-score favorites, even at home? We're not confident that it does.
Why? Because like last week, it's the young teams and the young QBs who are playing with house money. The pressure is on the home-team Ravens, not the visiting Texans, to move on and take advantage of this setup.
Baltimore will be cold with clear skies Saturday evening. We saw Stroud struggle in inclement weather before (Week 14 at NYJ), but there's no evidence that it'll be a similar environment tonight. In Week 1, when these two teams clashed in Charm City to kickoff the season, we saw glimpses of what the Houston Texans have become. Baltimore probably wins this game, that's where rationale would lead any bettor, but that doesn't mean it'll be a blowout.
Saturday's contest feels like the beginning of a rivalry that will build for years to come, as two of the league's most dynamic QBs go back and forth to outperform the other. Lamar Jackson and his team have been doing it for longer, but even they must be a little unsure entering the Divisional Round. How could you not be when watching CJ Stroud's ability and a Texans' team that's risen to the occasion numerous times before? Whether they're admitting it or not, Ravens' fans are a little uneasy heading into this evening, as they should be. It's Texans or pass for this bettor.
Houston +9½ -110 (Risking 2.2 units - To Win: 2.00)