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NFL Week 1 Betting: Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos -4.0 (-120)

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado

September 13, 2015, 2:25pm MDT

Our power rankings-based handicapping approach, which is based on ESPN's FPI statistic, makes the #5-rated Broncos to be about 5.4 points better than the Ravens (#8) in Denver for week 1.

Our simulation work likewise anticipates a Broncos cover, forecasting a Denver win by a 5.6-6.1 point margin.

While the public too has latched onto the prospect of a Denver win against-the-spread, sentiment does not appear so extreme as to give us pause. SportsInsights compiles data from seven sportsbooks and offers real-time updates on wager positioning. Currently, 62% of spread bets they track favor Denver. We generally look to figures in the ballpark of 70 % (or greater) to indicate excessive herding.

VegasInsider reports that many Las Vegas sportsbooks opened this game at Denver -4.0 back in April. The lines more-or-less held steady until recently, but have crept up to -4.5 over the last two weeks at most shops. We regard this movement in Denver's direction as another modest support for the idea that the Broncos will beat the number.

In our analysis of the Thursday Night matchup between the Patriots at the Steelers we pointed to a historical precedent for QBs that play well into their late-30s to experience diminishing productivity after age 37 (details here). At age 39, Peyton Manning is the oldest quarterback in the league. Further, consistent with the thesis, by many metrics Manning did in fact experience the worst year of his Denver tenure last year -- right on cue, at age 38.

Peyton though has historically rebounded following below average years. For example, in 2007 and 2010 his QBR dipped to around 75 -- below his career average in both cases. During the following seasons, Manning's numbers rebounded to 79 and 83, respectively.

To be clear, we believe that the Payton Manning that averaged better than 9 yds per completion and tossed 49 TDs (circa 2004) is gone for good. However, we are not convinced that Manning's decline will unfold in a linear fashion. We see scope for, if not a bounce-back season like a young Manning would muster, at least flashes of the former Peyton here and there. Given the disheartening loss dealt to Denver by Manning's former team in the Divisional Round of last year's playoffs, and the imminence of his exodus from the game, we see week 1 as an ideal spot for Manning to play up.

Bottom Line: In our estimation, the play of the fourth-best QB in the league is vastly more important to Denver's week-to-week as well as whole-season success than the change at the head coach position, the youth of the offensive line or any of the other story lines that might be swirling around the franchise. And for now we are content to take the possibility that Peyton Manning is over the hill with a grain of salt. We think Manning has the mental resolve and the physical ability (still) to get the job done this afternoon. As such, we are comfortable heeding the indications from our power ranking model, our sim work and the market itself and are picking the Broncos -4.

Happy betting!!

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