SharpClarke's Best Week 16 NFL Bet: BAL @ SF

Dec 23, 2023
SharpClarke's Best Week 16 NFL Bet: BAL @ SF

This week, I am taking on the most high-profile game on the slate, settling in for some Christmas night fun as the current AFC #1 seed, Baltimore Ravens, visit the current NFC #1 seed and Super Bowl favorite, San Francisco 49ers. The teams are both trying to secure home-field throughout the playoffs and a round 1 bye. The 49ers could not be priced more highly in the market, and yet all they seem to do is justify their high expectations week after week. I think this is a spot where they could potentially fall short of expectations, so I am backing the Ravens. Let's dive in.

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Matchup Breakdown

BAL offense v. SF defense

The 49ers defense struggled last week without Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead in the middle. The Cardinals were able to work with time in the pocket and run the ball effectively. The 49ers should get Hargrave back here, but the Ravens are a much better offense than the Cardinals. Even without Keaton Mitchell, the Ravens' run blocking has been excellent and Lamar Jackson offers a dual-threat that offenses have to account for and slow down their aggressiveness. That is particularly harmful when a defense relies on aggressiveness and gang-tackling, like the 49ers. The Ravens also are not afraid to threaten downfield, and the 49ers are weakest in the secondary. Overall, it's a very good matchup for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens relative to baseline expectation, so even though the 49ers have been playing well, they are susceptible here to a big game from Baltimore.

I also like how the Ravens have evolved on offense over the course of the season. Jackson started hesitant to run the ball on pass plays, instead getting used to seeing routes develop with his new receivers. But in recent weeks I have liked his willingness to tuck and run, when he is arguably most dangerous. Against a zone defense that will try to keep him contained inside, I expect he'll bust through for some gains up the middle when the play breaks down. Particularly if the Ravens are playing from behind, this should lead to sustained drives. Very helpful for a big underdog.

SF offense v. BAL defense

My primary angle on this side of the ball is that the 49ers' offense needs to continue to play its best football to justify the 6-point spread, and I suspect there is a wide range of outcomes that involve a below-average performance. Since the 49ers lost their last game, they have just run over the Jaguars, Bucs, Seahawks, Eagles, Seahawks again, and Cardinals. The only defense in that group that is even top-20 in EPA/play allowed on the season is the Jaguars, and even they are 16th and have been trending down. The Ravens are 2nd. Brock Purdy has been great, but things have been so easy for him that there is a chance he looks materially worse against a defense of this caliber.

Now, the 49ers have tons of weapons and options on offense and Purdy orchestrates things very well from inside and outside the pocket. But he has also benefitted from a lot of close calls going his way and incredible plays by his playmakers after the catch. They also have been able to keep his pass attempts down by running the ball successfully. The offensive line is not elite, and if the Ravens can get to Purdy and stop Christian McCaffrey from consistently getting chunk plays, this could make things much more difficult overall. And the thing about an offense that relies on scheme and things going according to plan is that it can look very different when things are truly disrupted. I know it's a pullback from a long time ago, but think about when the Raiders with Rich Gannon went against the Bucs in the Super Bowl. A hyper-efficient offense built on timing and play design with a quarterback who could orchestrate it all perfectly did not have a second gear when they lost up front. That's certainly within the range of outcomes here.

Market Evaluation

Now I am not going to make the case that the 49ers are anything less than the clear best team in football. They are justifiably strong Super Bowl favorites and deserve to be favored in this matchup at home. But playing out the simulations, I expect that the 6-point median outcome win being projected for San Francisco is too generous, and a spread of 4 to 4.5 is fair. I know the Ravens will be a popular bet as people try to sell the market high on the 49ers, but there will also be very strong support for the 49ers given their recent form. Betting is split, and I'm comfortable with the market price that is generating that split.

Best Bet

I'll take the Ravens against the spread here, as a small 49ers win is the most common outcome.

BAL +6 (-110) (Caesars, Circa, DraftKings, Bookmaker, Bet365, etc.)

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