Drawing the line vs. Patriots

Ravens downplay 20-point spread

December 02, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,[Sun reporter]

The Ravens' motivation for tomorrow night comes from the chance to end the New England Patriots' perfect season, stop a franchise-worst five-game losing streak and make NFL history of their own.

If the 20-point-underdog Ravens beat the undefeated Patriots, it would mark the biggest upset in 33 years, at least by Las Vegas standards.

In recorded oddsmaker history, only one team has won an NFL game after being an underdog of at least 20 points. It occurred in 1974, when the San Diego Chargers upended the heavily favored Cincinnati Bengals, 20-17.

Asked whether the large point spread would motivate his players, Ravens coach Brian Billick said: "Motivate to make a bet? Or to play the game? I'm not a bettor. I don't know how all that works. Is it a Ouija board or some monkey pointing at a board with a dart? Is it something like that?"

The 20-point spread for tomorrow's game at M&T Bank Stadium makes the Ravens the biggest home underdogs in NFL history and is the largest in the Ravens' 12-year existence, a span of 195 games (including the postseason).

This is the eighth time in the Ravens' history that they have been double-digit underdogs but just the third since 2000.

Before this week, the Ravens' biggest underdog spread was 14 points. That happened in 2005, when the favored Denver Broncos beat the visiting Ravens, 12-10.

The Ravens previously had been double-digit underdogs at home just once. The Minnesota Vikings, whose offensive coordinator was Billick, came to Baltimore as 10-point favorites in 1998 and won, 38-28.

Like Billick, a few of the Ravens joked about the current 20-point spread. Some even understood it.

But others, including receiver Derrick Mason, were angered by it.

"We could have been 100-point underdogs; it doesn't matter to me," Mason said. "I know a lot of people figure we should just pack it up and not go out there and play. But we're a football team just like they're a football team. I feel that if we do what we need to do and don't turn the ball over, then we have a good shot of winning this game.

"I'm not saying it just to be saying it. I believe in what we're doing as an offense and as a defense and special teams unit. So, let's be a 20-point underdog. We've just got to out there and allow our play to dictate the way the game goes."

There are reasons the Ravens are the seventh team since 1980 to be at least a 20-point underdog.

New England's average margin of victory this season is 23.3 points. The Ravens have allowed more than 30 points in back-to-back games. And the Patriots could be a more determined team after beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-28, in a game they were favored to win by 24 points.

That's why Ravens linebacker Bart Scott didn't take offense to the oddsmakers' line.

"How many points are they averaging? How many points are we averaging?" Scott said. "That's simple math to me."

This is the simple math: The Patriots are averaging 40.2 points a game and the Ravens are managing 16.5 points - a difference of 23.7.

All these numbers likely factored into the Ravens being the fourth-biggest NFL underdog since 1992.

Billick said he couldn't remember the last time a team of his was this big of an underdog. He thinks it might have been against Nebraska in the 1980s, when he was the offensive coordinator for Utah State.

"But we weren't at home," Billick said.

Whether it's a game played at home or away, some Ravens consider the spread a slap in the face.

"There should be a lot of disappointed people come [tomorrow] night," fullback Le'Ron McClain said. "We're coming to play. We've got to protect our house. We're going to come out ... and prove everybody wrong."

Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback who is an analyst for Monday Night Football, estimated the Ravens' chance for victory at about 1 percent. He said the Ravens should hope for bad weather, like the rain that destroyed Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Monday.

"Everyone's not giving us a chance because of our record and [because] the Patriots are probably the best team the NFL has seen in a while," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "So, we take it as a challenge and we know we have to play a perfect game."

Note -- Cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) and tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) will be "game-time" decisions, Billick said after practice yesterday in Owings Mills. McAlister and Rolle participated in only part of yesterday's workout, and Heap sat out.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Childs Walker and Don Markus contributed to this article.

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