I'm not a gambler by any means. The extent of my wagering is an occasional two-dollar Preakness bet, which I construe as a donation to the state coffers given how seldom it comes in.
Nonetheless, I regularly receive emails from bookmakers seeking publicity for their pro football odds. It's always interesting to see what they think.
Late this week, a strongly-worded message from one landed in my inbox. Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager for Bovada, an online gambling shop, said bettors are "pounding" the Denver Broncos, who are favored to beat the Ravens today in the AFC divisional playoffs.
"Pounding," in this case, isn't what Haloti Ngata does to running backs. It means the public is strongly backing the Broncos, expecting they will not only win but also cover the 10-point spread.
In other words, virtually no one is giving the Ravens a shot outside of those who cheer for them.
As I said … interesting.
Let me ask you this: How do you think the Broncos reacted when they learned the Ravens, not the Indianapolis Colt or Cincinnati Bengals, would be coming to Denver for this game?
Some fans probably believe the top-seeded Broncos looked at each other and smiled since they gave the Ravens such a brutal "pounding" (traditional definition) just last month in Baltimore and now they're hosting the rematch in front of their own fans and amid the high altitude to which they're accustomed.
But despite all that and the fact that the Broncos are on an 11-game winning streak, having forged all sorts of statistical trends that point to them winning today, I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, they weren't so thrilled to hear it was the Ravens who would oppose them today.
Even after a regular season in which they wobbled at times and endured a three-game losing streak, the Ravens aren't a team you relish as a playoff opponent.
They're hard-nosed and experienced, unlikely to blink, seldom an easy out. To say they're accustomed to the stage is an understatement. They've played in this round of the Super Bowl tournament for five straight years, winning twice. This is the Broncos' second trip to this round in that five-year span, and they lost by five touchdowns the other time, last year in New England.
Also, on two of the three occasions in their history when the Ravens won in this round, they defeated, ahem, the AFC's No. 1 seed. They knocked off Tennessee on their way to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2000, and they upset Tennessee again in 2008.
The Ravens were big-time underdogs in those games, too, and the blueprints from those victories offer clues about how to do it again. Don't fall too far behind early. Win the turnover battle. Make some magic on special teams.
Of course, what happened years ago has no bearing on what happens today. The fact remains that the Broncos crushed the Ravens when they met less than a month ago. That's more relevant.
But even that circumstance, seemingly ominous for the Ravens, is probably not ideal in the Broncos' minds. They know full well that in today's evenly-matched NFL there often is no connection between what happens from week to week. What passes for logic tends to shift dramatically, as do results.
Would the Ravens crush the New York Giants if they played again? I say no. Would the Broncos crush the Ravens again, especially now that the Ravens have back the five injured starters who sat out that first game?
I say no.
Nothing motivates players more than getting embarrassed, as the Ravens were against Denver on Dec. 16 at M&T Bank Stadium. Forget playing to advance in the playoffs or save a coach's job or any other trumped-up form of motivation; if you really want to get a team fired up for a topnotch performance, give them a chance to avenge a colossal rear-kicking.
That's what sticks in their minds, and that's where the Ravens are today, itching to change minds on a day when they're finally healthy and no one expects anything from them. I actually think it's a great place to be.