Here’s what will happen when the Ravens welcome the New England Patriots to M&T Bank Stadium for their seventh ever meeting in the regular season and a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game …
1. Torrey Smith breaks out from his quiet start with 85 receiving yards and his first touchdown of the season. After being targeted only eight times in the first two games, Smith will play a major part in opening up space for short and intermediate routes against New England’s Cover 2 defense. Quarterback Joe Flacco will look to connect with the second-year wideout on a deep ball early as he did in Week 1, but this will lead to room for Smith to show off his more diverse route-running ability. If the Ravens are truly committed to becoming more of a passing team, Smith needs to be more involved and it starts against the Patriots secondary after a difficult week against Philadelphia’s defensive backfield.
2. The Ravens make a concerted effort to get Ray Rice involved early, but the Patriots hold him to under 100 total yards. With critics still questioning offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play-calling in short-yardage situations, it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens not feeding the ball to Rice early and often — on the ground or through the air — and New England will be expecting it. The Patriots are strong up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and were able to contain Rice last January by holding him to 67 yards on 21 carries and just one catch for 11 yards. New England shut down Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in Week 1 and they won’t allow Rice to be the one to beat them Sunday night.
3. New England won’t have tight end Aaron Hernandez, but Rob Gronkowski picks up the slack with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown. The Ravens were woeful last week in attempting to cover Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek as linebackers lost him in coverage and defensive backs were too late in reacting to passing plays in front of them. That doesn’t bode well with arguably the best tight end in the NFL coming to town, and Gronkowski caught five passes for 87 yards in the AFC Championship last year despite injuring his ankle late in the third quarter. Even with strong safety Bernard Pollard healthy enough to play, the Ravens won’t be able to slow the 6-foot-6, 265-pound monster.
4. The no-huddle offense plays a major role for the Patriots as the Ravens can’t cycle personnel on and off the field and Tom Brady picks apart the pass defense. The New England offensive line has been suspect this season, so the Baltimore defense must take advantage in making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. If the Patriots protect him, they’ll use more of their no-huddle attack, which prevents defensive coordinator Dean Pees from cycling in personnel to keep the front seven fresh — especially with Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger dealing with nagging injuries — in hopes of creating a consistent pass rush. The short and intermediate passes to Gronkowski and wide receiver Wes Welker – mixed with a few longer balls to newcomer Brandon Lloyd – will wear down the Ravens in the second half. Even without Hernandez, there are just too many weapons for which to account without a consistent rush from the front four.
5. In a game that has more scoring than last January’s meeting in Foxborough, the more experienced New England offense is the difference in a 27-24 victory for the Patriots. Both offenses are going to score points in this one, but it’s still difficult to put faith in the Ravens winning a high-scoring game where they potentially have to match an opponent score for score. Flacco and the Baltimore offense gets back on track after their poor second half in Philadelphia, but the Patriots have an improved defense with the additions of pass-rusher Chandler Jones and strongside linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Making too much out of New England’s surprising loss to defensive-minded Arizona is unwise as the Patriots still possess a very dangerous offense that’s difficult to stop. The Ravens defense lacks the horses to slow them enough, and the improved offense won’t be able to keep up as the game is decided by a late touchdown. New England improves to 7-0 in the all-time regular-season series against Baltimore and the Ravens’ 11-game home winning streak in the regular season is snapped.