One thing that must be understood about NFL betting lines is the fact that they are at once both an estimate on the part of the oddsmaker and reflection of public sentiment. And with regard to the game that kicks off the NFL season, taking place between the Denver Broncos and defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, it is a situation where the public has bet the game down, but not all that much.
They will kick it off at 8:30 PM ET at Sports Authority Field in Denver, and the numbers show that there is a lot of faith in the Broncos as a team that figures to be a Super Bowl favorite, and some skepticism about Baltimore’s chances to repeat. The game will be televised in the United States by NBC.
Here is what the NFL betting lines look like at Bovada:
Denver Broncos -7.5
Baltimore Ravens +7.5
Over 48.5 Points -115
Under 48.5 Points -105
Broncos to win game -340
Ravens to win game +270
The revenge angle is one that is obvious. The Broncos were expected by some to advance to a date with New England in the AFC title game, but the Ravens brought those hopes to a screeching halt in Denver, as Joe Flacco and his supporting cast burned the defense with clutch plays when he needed them most and pulled out a come-from-behind win in double overtime. Flacco threw for 331 yards and three TD’s in that game.
Of course, there’s an awful lot of excitement in Denver surrounding the acquisition of Wes Welker, who had worn out his welcome in New England (or maybe it was the other way around, if you believe him). What’s important to understand about Welker is that he has caught over 100 passes in five of the last six seasons, and everyone is mindful of the way Peyton Manning has used slot receivers in the past, particularly people like Austin Collie in Indianapolis, so the possibilities would appear to be endless. And remember, Manning took other receivers and made star out of them, including Demaryius Thomas (94 catches, 1434 yards in 2012) and Eric Decker (13 TD’s), Welker is unquestionably a step up from Brandon Stokley, who was last year’s slot receiver.
Manning is going to try to get some balance in his running game, but these aren’t the old days in Denver, where Mike Shanahan could throw virtually anybody out there and they could become a 1000-yard rusher. No, he took that with him to Washington. The Broncos will try the committee approach, but there is no guarantee that the combination of Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball is going to produce anything considerable. Then again, they may not have to.
Sure, there are some nervous Raven fans because of some of the player losses the team suffered in the wake of the Super Bowl win over San Francisco. And that has to be a factor in this week’s NFL betting lines at Bovada. Ray Lewis has, of course, retired, and Ed Reed, who is also headed to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, went to Houston. Anquan Boldin was traded. This leaves holes, undoubtedly, but Baltimore wasn’t exactly idle in the off-season. Ozzie Newsome, the Hall of Fame tight end who could also be a Hall of Fame executive, brought in Elvis Dumervil to help put pressure on quarterbacks, along with Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, and the aforementioned Stokley, who caught a TD pass twelve seasons ago for the Ravens in the Super Bowl, has been added to the receiving corps, in addition to tight end Dallas Clark, who was a favorite of Manning’s with the Colts.
Jacoby Jones, a Super Bowl hero (TD’s receiving and returning), who also pulled in the “miracle” touchdown pass from Flacco that sent the playoff game in Denver into overtime, will be given a chance to have more of a full-time role. He gravitated toward that last year and could make for a very productive combination with Torrey Smith, especially if people like Clark and Stokley can deflect enough attention away from them.
One of the hot subjects of debate after the Super Bowl was whether Flacco had ascended to the position of “elite” quarterback. Does it matter? Not really, but Flacco really shined in the post-season, with eleven TD passes without an interception, so let’s just say he is capable and can play under pressure. Plus, he is going to be a lot more comfortable with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who was a welcome change from Cam Cameron, who was fired during the season. Any team coached by John Harbaugh is going to be able to run the ball (in this case, Ray Rice is the guy who will move the chains) and All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, who had been cut, was re-signed, and he can be expected to help open up some holes.
Flacco, who should be operating with a lot more confidence if he hasn’t fallen victim to complacency, catches a break in that Denver does not have the bookends who supplied such a fierce pass rush. Dumervil and Von Miller combined for 29.5 sacks last season, but neither is available for this game. Dumervil will, of course, be on the other sideline as a member of the Ravens, while Miller is currently sitting due to suspension. How do the Broncos make up for that? Well, they will have to get a big effort out of second-year man Derek Wolfe (six sacks last year), who had a scary moment in the pre-season when he suffered a concussion of the spinal cord.
The long-term prospects are naturally pretty good for Denver, which is listed at +600 in the NFL betting lines at Bovada to win the Super Bowl (which means they share the favorite’s role with the 49ers). It is true that the leadership of Lewis and Reed will be missed. But these guys sat out some games last season, and new leaders have a way of emerging. Dumervil could be instrumental in that regard. We wonder if anyone should expect Manning & Co. to steamroll this opponent, which brings mental toughness and quite a bit of championship talent to the Mile High City.