Thursday night's matchup sums up the NFL season to date.
The Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 4-3 and 3-4, respectively, hovering around .500. Both teams have the talent to be Super Bowl contenders, but they're not there yet. We have no idea if either team is any good this season.
The Ravens are a 2-point road underdog at BetMGM over the Buccaneers (the line moved from Ravens -1 on Wednesday). It's a matchup of two mystery teams, though two-thirds of the league seems to be a mystery seven weeks into the season.
Baltimore is good enough that it has either won or led by double digits in the second half of each game. The problem is they've blown double-digit leads and lost three times already this season. Their inability to close out games is historic. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the 2022 Ravens and 2011 Minnesota Vikings were the only teams to blow two leads of 17 points or more in their first four games. There were 40 teams in NFL history to lead each of their first six games by 10 points or more, and the 2022 Ravens were the only one that didn't have a winning record through those six games, according to CBS Sports.
Are the Ravens a fearsome team for the second half of the season, considering they're the rare team through history to lead each of their first seven games by double digits? Or a suspect team that can't finish?
The Buccaneers are hard to figure out, too. The talent is obvious, but it has been rough lately. They lost back-to-back games at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, who are a combined 2-10 in their other games. The Panthers dominated the Buccaneers, winning 21-3. It was alarming to see Tampa Bay fail to get in the end zone against a mediocre defense. It was also troubling to see the Buccaneers defense let down against what is likely the NFL's worst offense.
The Buccaneers have more questions surrounding them, especially considering Tom Brady's play declining at age 45. Maybe being back at home will help them, or they'll have an inspired performance after being ripped for a few days following the Panthers loss, but I believe in the Ravens a bit more. Not that Baltimore doesn't have its issues, but it hasn't laid a complete egg in a game all season. I'll take them on Thursday night (though make sure tight end Mark Andrews is playing; he didn't practice all week and is listed as questionable), but it's difficult to know what to expect from either team.
Here's a first look at the sports betting slate for Thursday:
What about props for TNF?
I'll take the under on Tom Brady 281.5 passing yards. The Ravens' pass defense is better than their run defense, and it's not like the Bucs' passing game has been that explosive this season.
On the Ravens' side I'll take Gus Edwards over 44.5 rushing yards. The Buccaneers are good against the run, but not as dominant as they have been. We saw Edwards return last week from an injury and rush for 66 yards. I think his role will continue to grow. The only concern is the Ravens not wanting to overextend him on a short week.
A trio of college football games
You can probably sneak in some college ball before and after the NFL game. At 7:30 p.m. Eastern there are two college gams kicking off. Virginia tech plays at NC State (-13.5), and Louisiana is at Southern Miss (-1). Then at 10 p.m. Eastern we get a Pac-12 kickoff, with No. 14-ranked Utah (-7) facing Washington State. None of those games seems worth skipping a solid NFL Thursday night matchup, but to each their own.
NBA and NHL carry on
There are just four NBA games but 10 NHL games. The best of the NBA games is probably the Dallas Mavericks at the Brooklyn Nets. Between Luka Doncic, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, there's a lot of star power on the court. The Mavericks are a 2.5-point road favorite against the Nets, who are not defending at all and lost at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors is another quality matchup. The Warriors are a 6.5-point favorite. The Heat did play on Wednesday night.
The Washington Capitals at the Dallas Stars is the highlight of the NHL schedule. The Stars are off to a very good 4-2-1 start this season and the Caps have started 4-3. The Stars are a -130 favorite.
What's the best bet?
I do believe in the Ravens. I think they'll end up being a very good team in the second half of the season. As long as Mark Andrews plays, I like Baltimore.