Can Baker quiet the critics?

An in-depth look at two intriguing QB matchups -- Lamar vs Herbert & Baker vs Kyler

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-1) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-1), 1 ET

Line: Ravens -2.5, Total: 51

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • MVP Battle?

Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert has been nothing short of phenomenal in his second season. The 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year entered Week 6 with the fourth-most passing yards in the league (1,576), tied for third in passing touchdowns (13), and third in completions (139). His performance, plus the Chargers 4-1 record, have vaulted Herbert up the MVP odds board, currently in a tie for third with Dak Prescott at +650 (trailing Josh Allen +450 and Kyler Murray +500), according to Vegas Insider. Herbert began the season at +2000 odds and was as high as +2300 as recently as three weeks ago -- before he took his Chargers into Arrowhead and knocked off the Chiefs. Over the past three games -- starting with that contest in KC -- Herbert has been otherworldly, throwing 11 touchdown passes and 0 INTs. After starting the season with two games of passer ratings in the mid-80s, Herbert has been at 125.0 (Chiefs), 107.6 (Raiders) and 122.0 (Browns) since. The result has been a lot of points for the Bolts; LA has scored 105 points over its last three games, all wins.

On the other side, we have Lamar Jackson. Despite one of the greatest Monday Night Football performances ever, Jackson is currently tied for seventh with the shortest odds to win MVP at +1200 (tied with Aaron Rodgers). Though, prior to Week 5, Jackson was at +2500; his extraordinary performance cut his odds in half. After never having thrown for at least 325 yards in a regular season game, Jackson lit up the Colts for 442 passing yards, along with four TD tosses, no interceptions, and even added 62 yards on the ground. The Ravens erased a 19-point second-half deficit to force overtime, where Jackson threw his fourth TD of the game to win it on the opening drive of the extra period. Jackson is currently one spot behind Herbert on the passing yardage leaderboard for the season, sitting fifth with 1,519 yards. He also leads all QBs with 341 rushing yards, which also ranks eighth among all NFL players.

It’s early in the season, but with two AFC contenders facing off with identical 4-1 records, it feels like this game could go a long way to helping one of these quarterbacks establish himself as a top MVP contender.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Pros vs. Joes?

Despite the Ravens dramatic victory last weekend where Lamar Jackson absolutely balled-out on national television, the public is still backing the Chargers. So far, 68% of the tickets in this game have gone toward LA, despite the team traveling East for what amounts to a 10am kickoff. However, the Ravens are the ones attracting the money; 54% of the total cash bet has been on the home team, indicating that more professional bettors are on that side.

The Ravens are 7-3 against-the-spread in their last 10 regular season games and 10-5 ATS at home in their last 15 regular season games. It’s a battle between trending teams, though, because the Chargers are 8-1 ATS in their last nine games and have covered four straight road contests. Twice this season the Chargers have been a road underdog; they’ve won both games outright (Week 1 at Washington and Week 3 at Kansas City).

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • QBs Not the Key?

After spending the majority of this analysis gushing over the incredible quarterbacks in this matchup, we’re going to attempt to explain why the key to the game may not even be through the air. The Ravens are fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 148.8 on the ground. It’s worth noting, though, that they tied the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games by barely getting over the number -- needing a 5-yard run on the final play to get there -- and then having the streak end last week when the team failed to top the century mark against the Colts. The Chargers provide an excellent bounce-back opportunity for the Ravens to start a new streak this week, as LA has the worst run-defense in the NFL in terms of yards-per-game allowed (157.6).

Baltimore’s game plan should be to attack the middle of the field. According to Next Gen Stats, the Ravens average 5.3 yards per carry on runs up the middle, the second-best mark in the NFL. Even when the opponent knows they’re going to run, Lamar and Co. are still able to have success; when facing a stacked box (8+ defenders), the team averages 5.9 yards per carry, which is best in the NFL.

The bad news for the Chargers is that they really struggle to tackle ball-carriers. They have allowed more rushing yards over expectation (RYOE) than any team in the league at 159 yards. When the Bolts gear up to stop the run … they still don’t. When using a stacked box defensively, the team still allows 6.1 yards per carry, which is not only the NFL’s worst mark, but over 1.5 yards worse than any other NFL team in that category. And the team is coming off its worst performance of the season, allowing the Browns to run for 230 yards. It was the third time this season that LA allowed a team to rush for at least 180 yards.

So, it’s not exactly that the quarterbacks don’t matter -- Lamar Jackson is the team’s leading rusher and will be heavily involved in the ground game. Plus, if the Chargers do get gashed on the ground, then they’re going to rely heavily on Herbert to keep them in the game -- just like they did against Cleveland.


ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-0) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-2), 4:05 ET

Line: Browns -3.5, Total: 48.5

ONE THING THAT EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Really, This Game???

We here at STAT Factor have one main goal when it comes to this STAT Stack: to provide you with the best possible information on only the biggest games. If you had asked us before the season to circle a game in Week 6 that would fit that description, I don’t think we would have ever thought Browns-Cardinals would be that game. Between these two teams, there have been a combined three playoff appearances since 2010. The Cardinals haven’t had a winning season since 2015 and the Browns winning season in 2020 was their first since 2007.

But enough history, let’s look at this game. As usual, the spotlight turns to the quarterbacks. Unlike the above game, where we have two potential MVP candidates, this game features one MVP candidate and one … well, we’re not sure how to categorize Baker Mayfield at this point. As we just mentioned, the Browns have had only one winning season in the past 15 years; yet, Mayfield has a winning record in his career as the Browns’ starter (26-24). That alone, one would think, would make him the future of the franchise. But another up-and-down season has people questioning his long-term viability.

Part of the issue for Mayfield is that the Browns offense is one of the few current NFL teams that doesn’t lean on the pass. Mayfield has attempted just 145 passes this season, which is tied with the Bengals’ Joe Burrow for fewest attempts by a quarterback who has started and finished each of his team’s first five games. Mayfield has been efficient, but unspectacular, across those 145 attempts. He’s completed 66.9% of his passes, thrown for 1,240 yards and has a passer rating of 96.9. But he’s thrown only four touchdown passes in five games, the same number as Jacoby Brissett, Zach Wilson, and Daniel Jones. He’s thrown two interceptions, again tied for the best mark among QBs who have started and finished all five team games thus far. He’s been sacked 13 times, tied for eighth in the NFL. He’s fumbled twice, but both were recovered by the Browns and didn’t result in a turnover.

All of Mayfield’s numbers scream “game manager.” He doesn’t light up the board, but he doesn’t turn it over, either. And maybe that’s all he needs to be in an offensive that leads the league in rushing. With Mayfield under contract for another season after this one, the Browns haven’t yet engaged with him in long-term extension talks. If he wants to get paid like contemporaries Dak Prescott and Josh Allen, these are the games where he needs to go out an establish himself. The Browns will be without star running back Nick Chubb, the opponent is an undefeated Super Bowl contender with an MVP candidate leading its offense, and the Browns are at home. This game certainly won’t define Mayfield’s career, or anything dramatic like that, but it might define sports talk radio and TV for another week if he can’t go out and get it done in a big spot.

TRENDS THAT EVERY SPORTS BETTOR NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Could Go Either Way

When looking for signals in the betting market, the first thing that we noticed about this game is … well, not much. Both the tickets (58% Browns) and the money (52% Browns) are in a zone that indicates that the public and the pros might be split on this matchup. Or, more likely, the public is split, and the pros aren’t touching it.

If you are looking at this game, you might find more useful information when it comes to the total. Despite 56% of the bets being placed on the over, 66% of the money is on the UNDER, according to Action Network who is also reporting sharp money on the Under. The question, though, is whether this number has dropped too far. After opening as high as 53 at some books, this number has been pushed down to 48.5, which is a precipitous drop. We could be looking at a case where there was immediate value on the Under when the line was posted and massive money poured in on that side, but it may have overcorrected too much and moved the late value to the Over.

ANALYTICAL ANALYSIS THAT EVERY SPORTS NERD NEEDS TO KNOW

  • Finally, Let’s Talk Some Kyler

In traditional stats, Kyler Murray performs very strongly. He leads the league in completion percentage at 75.2%, his passer rating of 113.0 is fourth in the NFL, he’s sixth in passing yards with 1,512, and his 9.2 yards-per-attempt is tied for second with Matthew Stafford (trailing Russell Wilson at 9.6).

All of that is impressive, but in our view, here’s what MOST impressive: his completion percentage of 75.2% is 9.4 points above his expected completion percentage of 65.8%. That means that he completes nearly 10% more of his passes than he’s supposed to, which is by far the biggest positive gap between COMP% and xCOMP% in the NFL. The next closest, Russell Wilson, is a full two points behind him at +7.3 xCOMP% over COMP%.

Kyler’s average air yards per pass is 7.6 yards, which is on the lower end as far as starting QBs. However, maybe being around 7.5 is the magic number; some of the other QBs who are around that same figure are Patrick Mahomes (7.7), Justin Herbert (7.6) and Dak Prescott (7.4). Of those players we just mentioned, Kyler has the highest average completed air-yards-per-throw at 6.

In conclusion, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the obvious connection between the starting quarterbacks in this game. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were teammates at Oklahoma; they both won the Heisman Trophy; and they were both the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. These two have met once before in the NFL, with Kyler’s Cards getting the better of Baker’s Browns in a 2019 victory, 38-24. Murray finished that game with 275 total yards, 1 TD and 1 INT while Mayfield threw 43 times for just 247 yards (5.7 YPA) and 2 TD, one of those being a garbage-time, 1-yard TD toss with 1:21 left in a 21-point rout.