Ravens-Bengals and Cowboys-Giants Previews

RAVENS/BENGALS, COWBOYS/NYG THE TWO BIGGEST GAMES OF THE DAY

Happy New Year! We had originally planned to run just the numbers for the most important game of the day in the NFL here in the Sunday NOTEBOOK...knowing that matchup would surely be moved to NBC for a prime time showcase. Well, the SECOND most important game of the day was almost moved so it could be a TV showcase....so we're going to preview both!

Baltimore at Cincinnati at 4 p.m. ET on CBS
Dallas at the NY Giants at 7:25 p.m. ET on NBC

These are the only two matchups out of 16 on the schedule where BOTH teams are SUPER-motivated to get a victory.

  • Baltimore will clinch at least a #2 seed and a first round bye with a win at Cincinnati.

  • Cincinnati will clinch the sixth and final AFC Wildcard spot if they beat Baltimore. The Bengals could still make the playoffs with a loss if they get some help elsewhere. But, that's a bit of a longshot given all that would have to happen.

  • Dallas wins the NFC East if they beat the NY Giants. They have no chance to get into the playoffs as a Wildcard.

  • The NY Giants win the NFC East if they beat Dallas. They have no chance to get into the playoffs as a Wildcard. Detroit and Atlanta have already clinched the two NFC Wildcard spots. (And, one of them will visit the NFC East winner next week).

Now, here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, we're not limiting our selection process to just these two games. We have a very strong card based on information we've gathered all over the schedule. There's a good chance that Dallas-NYG is going to be in the mix as either a major release or a bonus play. Baltimore/Cincinnati might sneak in too. Be sure you shake the cobwebs from your New Year's Eve partying in time to purchase our full Sunday slate before the early games go.

Let's crunch some numbers from the two biggest games...

DRIVE POINTS
Baltimore: 12.5 on offense, 8.7 on defense
Cincinnati: 10.6 on offense, 11.8 on defense

You regulars know these are points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. Baltimore has the clear edge, with a +3.8 differential compared to -1.2 for the Bengals. In fact, Cincinnati doesn't even register as playoff caliber in this stat...because there's a very strong correlation between success and true quality. If you're new to the website, we consider Drive Points to be the single best indicator stat in all of sports. If you're good, it shows up. If you're not, you can't hide it. Baltimore is better on offense by a couple points, and better on defense by a field goal. This is why they're a road favorite.

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Baltimore: 43% on offense, 31% on defense
Cincinnati: 36% on offense, 35% on defense

Home run here for the Ravens. And, arguably the reason they're in position to earn a bye week. Even though their third down dominance isn't showing up in Drive Points as much as you'd like. The offense is able to run clock and keep the defense fresh. The defense is able to force punts and keep themselves fresh! That helps you grind out wins even when you're not lighting up the scoreboard.

Cincinnati does have a positive differential. And, with the midpoint of the league dropping down to 36%...we're looking at a league average offense and a slightly better than league average defense. That puts them on the cusp of Wildcard caliber...which is where they are in your newspaper standings.

Big edge here to the Ravens in terms of moving the ball, keeping the defense fresh, and being in position to grind out a late win.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
Baltimore: +1 (25 takeaways, 24 giveaways)
Cincinnati: +1 (22 takeaways, 21 giveaways)

A dead heat in this stat, which nobody would have expected before the season started. Baltimore has an aggressive defense that's supposed to force turnovers. Cincinnati was led by a rookie quarterback. Yet, with one week in the books...we've got a draw. Of course, there's one more game...and that Baltimore defense is going to be trying to force turnovers from a rookie quarterback in a high pressure spot!

Before we try to sum this game up, we have to touch on a topic we last addressed when Baltimore was playing a Sunday Night game at San Diego. Back then we mentioned that Baltimore had posted some horrible results on the road this year. Then they went out and got obliterated by San Diego!

Baltimore (-6) lost at Tennessee 26-13
Baltimore (-7) lost at Jacksonville 12-7
Baltimore (-7) lost at Seattle 22-17
Baltimore (-2.5) lost at San Diego 34-14

Those are the four losses in Baltimore's 11-4 campaign. They did score a very late TD at Pittsburgh to get a win...a win that will earn them the tie-breaker over the Steelers if needed. But, those four teams you see above aren't exactly juggernauts. Barring a few surprises, none will make the playoffs.

Our key indicator stats clearly paint Baltimore as the better team. Cincinnati isn't any worse than that composite that's knocked off the Ravens four times this year. We'll keep that in mind as we pick the game...and we'll think about the Under given the conservative nature of playoff style football when good defenses are on the field.

In Sunday's nightcap, and the regular season's grand finale...

DRIVE POINTS
Dallas: 12.9 on offense, 12.3 on defense
NY Giants: 16.9 on offense, 15.3 on defense

Positive differentials for both, with +0.6 for Dallas and +1.6 for the New York Giants. That's one point better on a neutral field, which would put the Giants just a shade past the magic number of -3 if pointspreads were based strictly on Drive Points. We should note that the Giants have a very good offensive number, but a very poor defensive number. This is a shootout team that has to outscore people because the defense has been surprisingly soft. Dallas is supposed to be better than that on offense. And, a Ryan-led defense should grade out better than that too. Disappointing numbers based on expectations, but numbers that are truly reflective of borderline playoff teams.

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Dallas: 40% on offense, 39% on defense
NY Giants: 37% on offense, 39% on defense

The Cowboys pick up the edge here, which might be why the Vegas line is sitting on a field goal rather than higher. Eli Manning hasn't done a great job on third downs this season considering he's a veteran quarterback playing for a productive offense. He's been relying quite a bit on the big play. When big plays don't happen...the Giants look pretty shaky.

We haven't yet talked about Tony Romo's hand injury. The Cowboys are saying he'll be fine. It's tough to imagine that given the swelling last week...and the fact that he's not always fine when he's healthy! We'd have to say that Vegas is pricing this game like Romo is going to play his normal road game. If he is below normal standards, that favors the Giants against the number.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
Dallas: +6 (25 takeaways, 19 giveaways)
NY Giants: +5 (29 takeaways, 24 giveaways)

Another dead heat for all intents and purposes. The Giants have been more aggressive on defense, but more mistake-prone on offense. Dallas has been surprisingly sharp on offense given Romo's history. Dallas gave the ball away 10 times in the first month of action, just nine times in the 11 games since then. It wouldn't at all be a surprise to see turnovers determine this game. Romo played on this field in the season opener against the Jets. You'll recall that a horribly timed Romo pick determined that game.

By post time Sunday morning, we'll have learned what we need to know about Romo's injury from our New York sources. And, we'll have a great read on the mindset of both teams. As we said earlier, we know everyone reading this wants a big winner in the last NFL game of the regular season. JIM HURLEY will leave no stone unturned in finding the best value in this game.

For a complete rundown of what's available on our Sunday card, please watch Mathew Hurley's video on the home page of this website. Or, check the "buy picks" page for the latest details. Make a few clicks...have your credit card handy...it's as easy as that! If you prefer talking to a live human, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We'll be back later Sunday to post our Monday edition of the NOTEBOOK. That's the report that runs through all six of the New Year's bowls that are being played on January 2nd this year. Because four of those games go relatively early (particularly if you're living in Las Vegas), we're going up Sunday afternoon rather than Monday morning with that critical sixpack of game breakdowns.

We're glad you made it through New Year's Eve safe and sound. Let's start 2012 off with a bang! GO GET THE BEST PLAYS ON THE BOARD FROM JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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