FanHouse Preview: Ravens at Patriots
More recently, and more importantly, the teams played a terrific game in early October which the Patriots won 27-23 thanks in large part to an ill-timed drop by Ravens receiver Mark Clayton. The Ravens also left with a sour taste in their mouths because they believed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady asked for and got special consideration from the officials on key scoring drives.
All told, the Patriots are 5-0 all-time against the Ravens. To change that history, the Ravens will have to win in Foxboro in January. That's been tough for teams for quite some time now. The good news is that the Ravens have the right kind of team to pull it off. Will they? Let's figure it out.
Three Key Questions:
1. Is the Patriots defense healthy enough to stand up to the Ravens running game?
2. Can Joe Flacco exploit a vulnerable Patriots secondary?
3. How much will Brady miss having Wes Welker available when the Ravens bring the heat?
Player in the Spotlight: Ray Rice. For the Ravens to pull off the win, Rice is going to have to carry a mighty load offensively. Thankfully for the visitors, Rice has proven to be capable of such an effort on several occasions this season. He gained more yards than anyone other than Chris Johnson this season and can hurt the Patriots as both a runner and receiver, something that will have to happen for the Ravens to control the ball and avoid exposing their weak secondary to Brady and Randy Moss.
Baltimore's Path to Victory: See the above with Rice for their best offensive plan, which should also feature a healthy dose of Willis McGahee. McGahee's coming off a career game in Week 17 and the two tailbacks will be essential this weekend. It seems odd to say that a Ravens team is better off without its defense on the field, but these haven't been your father's Ravens this year. The defense is still good, but it can't win a game all by itself. Maybe it would feel different if Ed Reed was 100 percent healthy, but he isn't. While it would be helpful if Flacco's receivers don't continue their habit of dropping passes in big spots, the Ravens will only win this game if they run the ball well enough to dictate the pace of the game.
New England's Path to Victory: The Patriots should be able to make plays down the field against the mediocre Ravens cornerbacks, assuming their offensive line gives Brady enough time to throw the ball. That hasn't been a given this season and you have to assume the Ravens won't just leave their corners out there against Moss without finding ways to generate more pass rush. On the other side of the ball, they've got to hope Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are back at full health because the defense, which gelled as the year wound down, can't withstand the Ravens rushing game without them. Limit Rice and make the rest of the Ravens offense beat you.
Prediction: Everything about this game points to the winner being the team that makes the least mistakes, be they physical or mental. Unfortunately for the Ravens, their history says that there are going to be a penalty flag, missed field goal or some other kind of miscue that costs them in a big spot on the road. That will be enough for the Patriots to survive and advance. Patriots 19, Ravens 16.