The best two teams in the AFC will play for a berth to the Super Bowl on Sunday, as the top-seeded Patriots welcome the second-seeded Ravens to Gillette Stadium.
It is not often that the top two seeds both win in the divisional round, but their opponents both had shortcomings. The Broncos ran out of steam and were overwhelmed in New England, while T.J. Yates could not get anything going against the Ravens’ defense.
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New England Patriots
The Patriots had one of the most impressive playoff performances last week, beating the Broncos 45-10. The game was never close, as the score at the half was 35-7 in the Patriots’ favor.
Tom Brady had five first-half touchdown passes, with three of those being to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk finished the game with ten catches for 145 yards and the three aforementioned touchdowns. Brady finished the game with six touchdowns, which is a postseason record.
A new weapon shown by the Pats’ last week was seen in Aaron Hernandez. They lined up the dynamic tight end in the backfield and handed him the ball five times for 61 yards. He could have had more if not for a mild concussion that was suffered during the game. If they continue to hand him the ball, it will be tough even for the Ravens defense to stop him.
It is known that the offense is among the best in the game, but the major question mark for the Patriots is their defense. They only allowed ten points last week against Denver, but the Broncos’ offense is far from dominant. It is tough to gauge the Pats’ defense because in the regular season they only played two teams that finished with winning records. Those teams were the Steelers and the Giants, and both of those games resulted in losses.
The Ravens’ offense is not that great in the passing game, but they average nearly 125 rushing yards a game. The New England defense will have to stop Ray Rice and Ricky Williams early on and force Joe Flacco to throw the ball. He averages just about 214 passing yards a game, which compares to nearly 294 allowed a game by the Patriots. This number is inflated though, as the infamous prevent defense was played often while the Patriots were in command of many of their games in the regular season.
Flacco is prone to making mistakes when he has to pass often, and it is also known that the Ravens don’t fare so well when Rice does not get his fair share of touches.
The Ravens are looking to get back to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history, and for the first time in over a decade. They are coming off a win over a Houston team that featured a rookie quarterback in T.J. Yates. Results may have been different if Matt Schaub was playing, but injuries are a part of the game.
Baltimore’s defense won them the game last week. They allowed more yards than the Houston’s defense allowed, but they won the turnover battle. T.J. Yates was intercepted three times and had more incompletions (18) than completions (17).
The worst turnover came on special teams, and can be single-handedly blamed on Jacoby Jones of the Texans. He was back to return the punt, but let the ball bounce. As it was bouncing he decided to try and make something out of it but dropped the ball. Baltimore then had a short field, and scored a touchdown off of the turnover.
For the Ravens to win, they will have to hold Tom Brady under his average of nearly 318 passing yards a game. They allow under 200 yards passing on average, but they haven’t faced a tough quarterback since Week 15 when they went up against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Even then, he only had 270 yards and a touchdown. Tom Brady will be the best quarterback they have faced all season, and limiting his productivity is necessary for a shot to win.
They will also need to keep a close watch on the two tight ends in Gronkowski and Hernandez. If the linebackers can shut them down, Brady will have to key in on Wes Welker, and it could make him predictable. Without a doubt, the Ravens have plans in place to shut down the two tight ends, and time will tell if they are successful.
The Ravens’ defense is one of the best in the league, but Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game of football. He will find a way to get the ball into the endzone, even if his tight ends are taken out of the equation.
I continue to doubt Joe Flacco, but a Super Bowl victory would change my thoughts. It just won’t happen this year.
Pick: Patriots 31 | Ravens 27
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Game Info
- Ravens-Patriots Date: Sunday, January 22nd
- Ravens-Patriots Time: 3:00 ET
- Ravens-Patriots TV: CBS
- Ravens-Patriots Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (with Steve Tasker)
- Ravens-Patriots Point Spread: Patriots -7.5
- Ravens-Patriots Over-Under: 50.5