Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Sunday at 4:25pm, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD
Line: Ravens -2.5
The NFL has been a league known for parody, however in the AFC there have been two constants for the last half decade – the Ravens and Patriots being two of the conference’s best teams. These teams have represented the AFC in the last two Super Bowls and together are one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
Both teams have had their share of injuries and turnovers, yet here we are in Week 16 and both control their own destiny to win their respective divisions, get into the playoffs and possibly get a first round bye. Many Ravens fans despise the Patriots and Tom Brady, but they also recognize how impressive it is that both teams have been able to sustain success for so long.
Call it a hunch, but something tells me that either the Ravens or Patriots, if not both, will make the AFC Championship. There is a lot on the line in this game, so who will get the much needed win? Here is my take on the game:
Patriots offense vs. Ravens defense
Clearly the key to stopping the Patriots offense is to stop Tom Brady. Luckily the Ravens seem to have more success doing that than most any other team in the NFL.
The Patriots offense has playmakers but they lost their biggest playmaker, Rob Gronkowski, for the season. Shane Vareen is a nice weapon out of the backfield though as his pass catching ability makes him tough to cover. You can almost certainly bet the Patriots will try to get Vereen in space against the Ravens linebackers. Surprisingly the Patriots are pretty formidable running the ball this year averaging just more than 118 yards per game.
Even with all that being said, the Patriots offense is not the same without Gronkowski as he was their best red zone threat and field stretcher. The Achilles heel for the Patriots has been their play in the red zone. Although games can be won just by kicking field goals, as we saw last week, touchdowns are always better.
I still expect Brady to play well, but not exceptional, and Vereen to have a big game. This week would be a good week for the Ravens to get the pass rush going again.
Ravens offense vs. Patriots defense
The Ravens did not put the ball in the end zone once last week, but won the game by kicking six field goals. That won’t happen again this week if they can’t get touchdowns. This is the perfect week for the offense to get healthy as the Patriots defense is one of the worst in the league and doesn’t compare at all with what the Ravens saw on Monday night. The Patriots come into the game as the second worst run defense in the league and they are in the bottom half in pass defense. Last time the Ravens faced one of the worst run defenses in the league (the Bears) Ray Rice actually had more than 100 yards rushing. So, let’s see if facing the Patriots can get him going.
Joe Flacco will be wearing a knee brace for the game but I don’t believe that will hinder his performance throwing the ball. He still should be able to find open receivers and pick apart the Patriots secondary. I expect Dennis Pitta to be more a factor this week than he was on Monday and I expect Torrey Smith to have a big game.
As always, protecting Flacco and giving him time to throw will be the key. Hopefully the offensive line can duplicate their performance from Monday night and keep defenders out of Flacco’s face. I love Justin Tucker but this week I only want to see him on the field to kick extra points, something I expect to see a lot of on Sunday.
There really is no analysis needed. Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL and Jacoby Jones might be the best return man. They both give the Ravens a chance to win every game and make them a major threat in the playoffs.
The only problem I have is that unfortunately the nickname “Legatron” is already taken by the Rams’ kicker, Greg Zuerlein, so we need to think of a new nickname for Tucker. Someone suggested Legamus Prime, so we will go with that unless anyone can come up with a better one.
These are two of the model organizations in the entire NFL and there is a good chance one of them represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this year. Both teams are flawed yet continue to find ways to win games. And, both sit in a great position to win their respective division.
The Ravens and Patriots have split the last six games but the Ravens have won the last two. Most of the games in this rivalry have also been decided by less than a touchdown. I believe that Tom Brady has never lost two games in a row in December and, if that is the case, I think that streak ends Sunday. The Ravens are the one team in the AFC, and probably the NFL, that aren’t scared of the Patriots and that the Patriots do not want to play. They always seem to rise to the occasion against them. Couple that with the fact that the Ravens are peaking at the right time and the game is in Baltimore, I think the Ravens will come out victorious. Something tells me however that this won’t be the last game played between these two teams this season.
Bottom line: the Ravens win and take a major step towards winning the AFC North.
Ravens 27 Patriots 21
Also, LET’S GO TOWSON TIGERS! ADVANCE TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!
Follow Marco on twitter @mromanell and Southbmore.com @southbmore1