Sunday Night Football: Patriots vs. Ravens Preview
January 22, 2012, with a trip to Indianapolis to play in Super Bowl XLVI hanging in the balance, Lee Evans had a pass knocked from his hands in the final minutes. Seconds later, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal to end the Baltimore Ravens hopes of meeting the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. That’s just a quick reflection on how the story unfolded where these two teams met earlier this year in the AFC Championship game.
Fast forward to September 22, 2012, Sunday Night Football, the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots (1-1) visit the Baltimore Ravens (1-1). The Ravens would love to come out at home and seek revenge on the team that ended their championship dreams last year. So, the stage is set for a rematch of the 2011-2012 AFC Championship game, right?
Not so fast.
First off, although it’s the first time these two teams will bump heads since last season, doesn’t necessarily mean the implications are the same. These two teams are AFC juggernauts, and this can possibly preview a future playoff meeting between the two. But remember, this is Week 3, and there is no Super Bowl trip to follow two weeks from now. Both of these teams have started 1-1, and whoever loses this battle will wind up below .500. Although both of these squads have the talent and skill to overcome a 1-2 record, neither team would want to find themselves in that hole. Last week, the Ravens dropped a tough one to the Philadelphia Eagles 24-23, while the Patriots were stunned by the visiting Arizona Cardinals 20-18. Keep in mind that the Ravens haven’t dropped back to back games since 2009, and the Patriots have not been 1-2 since 2001. One of those streaks will be ended.
Don’t forget that the Baltimore Ravens have NEVER defeated the New England Patriots in regular season play. That’s a huge monkey that Baltimore would probably love to get off of their shoulder pads. The Ravens do carry an 11-game winning streak at home in M&T Bank Stadium, the longest such streak in the NFL. Joe Flacco also holds a home record of 28-5 in that building. Wow.
In Week 3, both of these teams show up a little differently than they did in the AFC title game. Both and Cundiff and Evans, two players who Baltimore went to in the final seconds, are both gone. The Patriots are without BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but do have a surprising young back in Stevan Ridley. Brandon Lloyd provides another threat for New England down the field. The Patriots lost Aaron Hernandez last week, so he will miss this game. We won’t be able to enjoy the usual constant facemask-to-facemask jawing between Terrell Suggs and Tom Brady in between plays as well. Terrell Suggs is hopeful to return later in the season for Baltimore.
In this matchup, I expect the running game to be vital. New England’s Stevan Ridley and Baltimore’s Ray Rice have both gotten off to good starts on the ground for their respective offenses. Ridley has racked up 196 yards so far this season, and Ray Rice totaled 167 yards as well. Being that the Patriots young corners are far more capable of covering man-to-man than the Ravens are, I think that the pressure if on Baltimore to establish a strong running attack on Sunday Night. If the Pats can slow down Ray Rice, they can have a successful night with former All-Pro Devin McCourty and last year’s interception leader Kyle Arrington covering the Ravens receivers. If Rice produces out of the backfield, it will allow Joe Flacco to test the top of the defense and take more shots down the field. Although the Ravens have Ed Reed and LaDarius Webb in their secondary, the Eagles did hurt them for quite a few plays down the field last Sunday. Ridley Vs. Rice will be a nice matchup to watch all Sunday night.
With all that being said, this game will not need to manufacture any excitement. These two teams are familiar foes; they have gone head-to-head on the NFL’s toughest battlefields. Brady has gone through numerous chess matches with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, usually getting the better of them. The crowd on hand at M&T Bank Stadium will be wild, and this will be a fun one for all NFL fans to watch. Whether this game is about revenge, or not starting 1-2, both of these teams will fight hard to avoid falling into an early hole in their respective divisions. So which team will below .500 you ask? The Ravens. I think Tom Brady will run the ball effectively enough to make more plays down the field than the Ravens will. The Patriots will continue their regular season dominance over the Baltimore Ravens.
Pick: New England 28, Baltimore 23