The Patriots will have their hands full Sunday night as they travel to Baltimore. There is no doubt that Ray Lewis and company are still bitter over their heart-breaking loss in the AFC Championship Game. Emmanuel Sanders made a late play on the football and broke up a sure game-winning touchdown. Down 3 with time expiring, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime and the rest is history. In addition to the bad blood between these two teams, both have an arsenal of offensive weapons. Joe Flacco will look to find Anquan Boldin and young stud Torrey Smith throughout the day. Despite these receivers immense talent, its tight end Dennis Pitta that leads the team in yards and receptions. Throw in Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and the Patriots’ defense will have its hands full. Luckily, as long as they follow my keys to victory, the Ravens won’t stand a chance Sunday night!
Keys on Offense:
1. Be Aggressive! Last week the Patriot’s were extremely conservative on many of their drives. Tom Brady looked handicapped by Coach Belichick at the end of the game. This does not pose a threat to the Patriots if they can learn from their loss last week. Bill Belichick MUST let Tom Brady go to work on the Raven’s defense. Just because Aaron Hernandez is hurt does not mean their offense lacks fire power. Stevan Ridley will not be able to carry the offense as he did in Week 1. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and new, but not so new, addition Deion Branch need to make plays this weekend if the Patriots are going to have any chance tomorrow night. Tom and his receivers need to take shots down the field and prevent the Raven’s from stacking the box and bringing pressure. Luckily, the receivers will have some help, which brings me to my next key…
2. Get the Ball to Gronk! Last week the Ravens were torched by Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek. He had 8 receptions for 157 yards and consistently burnt whichever linebacker the Ravens assigned him. Rob Gronkowski has also had success against the Ravens. In their postseason match-up last year, he had a team high 87 receiving yards. In addition to Gronk, the Patriots signed tight end Kellen Winslow this week. While I don’t expect Winslow to get a grip of Belichick’s offense in one week, he could serve as a decoy to avoid double coverage on Gronkowski. I think Gronkowski is a sure fire fantasy starter, and we will have a big game win or lose Sunday Night.
3. Get Ahead Early. If the Patriots are aggressive and maintain an early lead, it will make the game much easier for them. The Raven’s defense thrives on knowing what the opposing offense is going to do. If the Patriots’ go down by double digits early in the game, the Ravens will key in on the pass. If they do this, Brady will see a lot of pressure coming his way, and then most likely he will see the ground a lot too. Low starts plagued the Patriots last season and hurt them last week against Arizona. If they start out slow again this week, don’t expect a victory down in Baltimore.
Keys on Defense:
1. Stay on your toes. Both Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are big deep threat receivers. Neither prefers running the inside routes that lead to getting hit hard. The Ravens love the play-action pass where they run the ball to Ray Rice repeatedly and then fake the run and throw it deep to either Boldin or Smith. This is a very effective offense when the running game is working. However, if the defense can bottle up Ray Rice and avoid the big plays, the Patriots will be fine.
2. Keep Contain. As I’ve said, Ray Rice is an extraordinary running back. He is small, but deceptively fast. The Patriots defense must keep him inside the numbers. Rice has big play ability once he hits the corners and can really hurt a defense. I believe the Patriots’ ability to defend the rush is the X-factor in this game. The play action will be useless if Rice cannot run the ball effectively. Fortunately, the past two weeks, the Patriots have stuffed opposing running backs, making them 5th in the NFL in run defense.
3. Weather the Storm. The Ravens’ offense is a dynamic bunch who put up a lot of points. They have 67 points through the first two weeks. They play a physical style of football, and the emergence of Joe Flacco as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL makes them hard to stop. Add in the fact that its a nationally televised game, the Ravens will be extra hyped. Bottom line is the Ravens are going to score points, and the defense is going to have to stay positive and make those couple plays late in the game necessary to win.
I expect this game to be a dog-fight. Ray Lewis will have his team fired up and hungry for revenge over their AFC Championship loss. The Patriots will jump out ahead early, but I predict this game to come down to the wire. I always tell myself never to bet against Tom Brady, but this week I have to go with the opposition. Final Score…
Patriots: 27 Ravens 31