The Baltimore Ravens travel to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots with the winner going to the Super Bowl. In their last playoff meeting, the Ravens won 33-14. However, that is their only win versus the Patriots in franchise history. The Patriots were a good team in that game but now they have two very good tight ends. They are the best combination in the NFL and maybe of all time. Gronkowski broke the record for most receiving yards and touchdowns. Hernandez is versatile, lining up as a running back, wide receiver, or tight end. They have other weapons as well; Wes Welker and Deion Branch are two good receivers. The Patriots don’t run the ball well, but they can get third and shorts because they have a good line.
The Ravens offense is a lot better than in years past. Ray Rice is still the main running back and he needs to have a big game if the Ravens want to win. This means getting him 15-20 touches running the ball because the Ravens need to keep Brady off of the field and the Patriots don’t stop the run well.
Joe Flacco has matured as a quarterback since their last playoff meeting, and he has new weapons. He has two deep ball threats, Lee Evans and Torrey Smith. Evans has not had the impact that the Ravens would have liked but him and Joe have looked a little more in synch in the last few weeks. Anquan Boldin is as fresh as ever since his knee surgery and he can have a big game versus a shaky New England secondary.
The Patriots defense is the worst in the NFL. Jerod Mayo is one of the better defenders on this team and he will be trying to stop Ray Rice. Vince Wilfork is a veteran and he does a great job stuffing up holes to stop the run game. The Patriots secondary has been very bad all year. Kyle Arrington had seven interceptions in the regular season. That is great but they still let up a lot of big plays.
The Ravens defense is much different than the Patriots. The Ravens have a top three defense in the NFL. They are led by Ray Lewis and he is still playing at a high level, no matter what fans say. He still plays great north and south, but east and west he is a little slower. However, he makes up for it with his intelligence.
Ed Reed had a poor regular season for him, but he played great versus the Texans. He made some good tackles and had one interception. He could have had two more but he dropped them.
Terrell Suggs had a horrible game versus the Texans. He didn’t get near the quarterback. This week he needs to get pressure on Brady. He had 14 sacks this year, and he had three in two big games. He had three against the Steelers in week one and three versus the 49ers on Thanksgiving. I expect him to bounce back this week and have a huge week. The Ravens will use Suggs in many ways; one will be to chip Gronkowki at the line and he will obviously being going after Brady.
The Ravens secondary will likely play bump and run coverage against Welker and Branch. The Steelers did it earlier this year against the Patriots and that is how they won. Lardarius Webb is playing as good as any cornerback in the NFL. He had two interceptions versus the Texans and five in the regular season. He does not give up the big play and he makes tackles in the open field. He needs to have a good game if the Ravens want to win.
Prediction: 38-21 Ravens