Ravens (4-1) @ Patriots (3-1)
For the third time in just over a calendar year, the Ravens travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots on their home turf. So will this trip end in heartbreak like the 2009 regular season meeting, or in jubilation as the playoff matchup did?
The Patriots have won 22 consecutive regular season home games.
They are coming off their bye week, a situation in which Bill Belichick coached teams are 8-2 since 2000, and have not lost since 2002.
In short, it won’t be easy, but if the Ravens play a solid game, they could have the talent on both sides of the ball to hand the Patriots their well overdue post-bye week loss.
Tom Brady is having another stellar season so far in 2010, completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 911 yards and 9 touchdowns to go with only two interceptions. In the first meeting with Baltimore last year, “Tom Terrific” was just that, going 21/32 for 258 yards and a critical touchdown to Randy Moss. In the playoff game however, a time during which Tom has been exceptional during his career, the Ravens held Brady to 23/42 for 154 yards, and picked him off three times. One area in which B’More has had success against the Patriots, though, is in pressuring Brady. They sacked him three times in each of those 2009 meetings, and Terrell Suggs especially seems to dominate Pats’ left tackle Matt Light. Even last season, when Suggs was generally playing poorly, he got to Brady and forced a fumble in both games. He, and the rest of the Ravens’ pass rush, will need to be equally effective against Brady, who has only been sacked five times in four games, on Sunday.
The Pats’ offense is also dealing with the much ballyhooed departure of All-World wide receiver Randy Moss, who was traded to Minnesota during New England’s bye week. Moss was not particularly effective against the Ravens last year (managing just 8 catches for 98 yards and 1 score total in the two games), but his presence on the field undeniably opens things up for the Patriots’ very strong underneath passing game. Guys like Wes Welker, and more recently Julian Edelman, have found great success running routes against linebackers with Moss taking the coverage deep with him. New England reacquired Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch from Seattle, and he and second-year wideout Brandon Tate will try to pick up Moss’s slack.
Perhaps the more dangerous weapon in the Patriots’ passing attack Sunday will be rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, out of the University of Florida, has 18 receptions for 240 yards already (for comparison’s sake, Moss had 9 for 139), and at 6’1″ 245 lbs., could pose a big matchup problem for the Ravens. Ravens’ linebackers struggled mightily in pass coverage in the preseason, and will have their hands full this week. As a whole, the Ravens’ 2nd-ranked pass defense will face easily their biggest challenge of the young season. Though Kyle Orton managed over 300 yards last week, the defense held him in check while it mattered, allowing the offense to build a comfortable lead through the early part of the game, before Orton racked up some yards with the game out of hand. Even sans Moss, they’ll have to play their best game of the year to beat Brady and the Patriots.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have a clear advantage over the Pats’ young and struggling defense. New England is 29th overall and 28th against the pass, so Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game could be in for a big day. In the playoff game, of course, it was Ray Rice and the running attack that won the game, racking up 234 total yards on the ground. Flacco, meanwhile, was just 4/10 for 34 yards and an interception. I don’t expect New England to allow such a one-dimensional attack to be successful again, so B’More will have to be much more balanced from the start to have a chance. Fortunately, with the additions of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, along with Todd Heap and Ed Dickson, the Ravens have plenty of weapons to turn to, should New England shut down the run as they were unable to do in January.
One area where the New England defense has excelled is in catching errant passes from opposing quarterbacks. The Patriots have seven interceptions, tied for third highest in the NFL, through just four games. Let’s hope Flacco leaves his patented “back foot floater” at home, or he could be in for a long day.
The Patriots’ special teams have also been a strength, as evidenced by their single-handedly costing the Miami Dolphins’ special teams coach his job two weeks ago. Brandon Tate is averaging over 33 yards per kick return, and the Patriots have blocked several punts. Fortunately for the Ravens, they have the ultimate special teams trump cards in their excellent kickers. Billy Cundiff has 11 touchbacks already this season, and Sam Koch’s incredible directional punting skills were on full display against the Broncos’ dangerous returner Eddie Royal. Although the Ravens’ return games have been disappointing as a whole in 2010, the coverage has been solid, and John Harbaugh’s special teams background could be a great asset for the team in Foxborough.
Now, when you see my prediction, some may accuse me of “flip-flopping” or of pandering to the audience earlier in the week when I picked the Patriots to win in my chat with Foxboroblog.
However, I did that interview on Tuesday, and in the days since then I have been convinced otherwise. Through listening to the local and national pundits, and watching Playbook on the NFL Network, I’m now much more confident that the Ravens can pull out a victory against the favored Patriots.
Mike Preston says he “can’t figure out how” the Patriots will beat the Ravens.
All three guys (Brian Billick, Sterling Sharpe, Joe Theisman) on NFL Network picked the Ravens.
All the Boston-area media who were guests on Baltimore talk radio this week picked the Ravens.
As you can see below, 6 of the 8 ESPN personalities picked the Ravens (even Steeler-loving Raven-hater Merrill Hoge!)
Bill Belichick was the one that called Steve Bisciotti nearly three years ago and told him to hire John Harbaugh. He regretted that phone call, if just a bit, last January. Let’s hope he regrets it again, just a bit, Sunday.
Goob used TV commercials to decide his pick. I’m going to be a bit more superstitious, pick the score I picked for the playoff game, and hope for the same result:
Ravens 28 Patriots 24