Ravens vs Patriots
The New England Patriots travel to Baltimore this weekend to battle the Ravens Sunday night in what is sure to be a slugfest. This AFC Championship rematch from a year ago is Baltimore’s second prime time game in the first three weeks of the season and they are hoping to rekindle the fire they had in their previous prime time game. Both the Patriots and Ravens are coming off tough losses last week. Baltimore lost by a single point against the Eagles and the Patriots lost by two after missing a potential game winning 42 yard field goal.
The Ravens are looking to get their offense running on all cylinders after a dismal performance the week before. Ray Rice needs to get the ball early and often to balance out the offense. If Rice gets himself established early, Joe Flacco can ignite the no huddle and give New England a taste of their own medicine. This would be a huge win for the Ravens, beating the team that ousted them in the playoffs a season ago.
New England has a sour taste in their mouth after falling to a Cardinals team that the entire planet expected the Patriots to handle easily. The Patriots are also facing questions of whether or not they are trying to phase out Tom Brady’s most reliable target over the past few years in Wes Welker due to contract negation issues. New England will also be without tight end Aaron Hernandez due to injury, but replacing him with recently signed Kellen Winslow.
This match-up between two AFC heavyweights is sure to be a dog fight right down to the final second. Neither the Ravens or the Patriots want to fall to 1-2, but after Sunday night’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, only one team will be hanging their hats on a 2-1 record.
Let’s check out some keys to the game:
Ravens 3 Keys to Victory
1) Let Ray Rice be Ray Rice
After the first two games this seems like a broken record, but the Ravens have yet to really feed one of the most dynamic backs in football and let him do what he does best, run the ball. Through the first two weeks Rice has only carried the ball twenty six times. Yes you read that correctly, only 26 rushes through the first two games. Yet still, having only 26 carries, Rice is 11th in the league is rushing yards and has the second highest yards per carry in that top 11. If the Ravens involve Ray Rice more and let him carry the Ravens down the field with his 6.4 yards per carry average, they could be marching to victory.
2) Contain Tom Brady
This key to victory is an obvious one anytime you are playing a Tom Brady led Patriots team. One way teams have had success in slowing down Brady is taking a linebacker off the field and replacing him with a defensive back. This helps contain all the receiver options the Patriots have, which just added another option when they resigned Deion Branch, one of Tom Brady’s most reliable targets over the years. If the Ravens want to roll into week 4 with a winning record, slowing down one of the game’s best quarterbacks is a must.
3) Keep an Eye on the Gronk
Rob Gronkowski is arguably the game’s best tight end. And with arguably the best quarterback throwing the ball to him in Tom Brady, it is a combo that needs to be taken seriously. After letting tight end Brent Celek have a monster game against them the week before en route to 157 yards receiving, the Ravens better keep an eye and an extra man hovering around “The Gronk” all game.
Patriots 3 Keys to Victory
1) Start Fast
Bill Belichick and the Patriots rarely lose two games in a row, and they are going to be coming out firing Sunday night after last week’s loss. The Patriots don’t want a repeat of last Sunday when they only scored 18 points the entire game. Look for Tom Brady to be aggressive from the start and be really going after the Ravens defense. Tom Brady has had several memorable comebacks over the years, but just as any quarterback in the NFL would prefer, he’d rather be playing with an early lead.
2) Find Hernandez’s Replacement
This key to the game for the Patriots doesn’t necessarily mean find another tight end to replace Hernandez. It means find someone to replace his production. Tom Brady loves his two tight end sets and having those two big targets running towards pay dirt while in the red zone. With Hernandez out, Brady will need to find a replacement for one of his favorite red zone targets. Could this be the week that Wes Welker has his breakout game that we are all expecting? If I was a betting man, look for Welker’s production and workload to increase this week to offset the loss of Hernandez.
3) Keep Brady on the Field and Flacco on the Sidelines
Tom Brady is the master of controlling a football game and keeping his defense rested. Look for the Patriots to really come out and try to control the time of possession. Flacco is developing into a very dangerous quarterback and Bill Belichick knows this. Look for the Patriots to develop more of a run game than they usually do to help keep the offense on the field. If the Patriots wear down the Ravens defense and have them gassed in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady will be in a situation in which he dominates all too often, a fourth quarter lead and a worn out defense looking him in the eyes.
Match-Up to Keep an Eye On
Sunday night’s game between the Ravens and Patriots features one of the best linebackers and one of the best quarterbacks to ever take a NFL field. It will be entertaining to see how Ray Lewis gets his defense set once Tom Brady is out there changing things at the line of scrimmage. If Lewis can get his defense in the proper positions once Tom Brady changes the play, the Ravens could be rolling to a victory. If Brady can confuse Lewis and the defense, look out for the Patriots we all have come to known over the last decade: high scoring winners. Keep your eyes on Lewis and Brady; it’s sure to be a doozy.
This is by far the hardest game I’ve had to pick this year. Sunday night’s game features in my mind, the two best teams in the AFC. A victory for either team could be just the confidence boost either one needs to get their season rolling in full force. In what I expect to be a very tightly contested game, I’m giving the slight advantage to the Ravens, being how it is in Baltimore under the bright lights of prime time football. The Ravens will get their offense back on track and defeat the Patriots 31-28. This one will have Ray Lewis dancing not only at the beginning of the game, but at the end as well.