The New England Patriots (1-1) go on the road Sunday night for an important Week 3 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens (1-1). Both teams are expected to be among the contenders in the AFC, but will enter Sunday night's game hoping to erase Week 2 losses.
Here's the five most important matchups to watch on Sunday Night Football:
Patriots DE Chandler Jones vs. Ravens LT Michael Oher
Chandler Jones has been everything the Patriots thought he'd be and more, creating five hurries, two quarterback hits and a sack through his first two NFL games. The first-rounder will be matched up against Michael Oher, who has had problems at left tackle in the past.
Keeping quarterback Joe Flacco clean in the pocket is vastly important for Baltimore, as Flacco ranks just 24th among quarterbacks in accuracy percentage under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
Patriots Gs Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly vs. Ravens DL Haloti Ngata
Haloti Ngata remains one of the best defensive linemen in football, and the Ravens utilize his unique skill set by lining him up at several different spots along the line. Both Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly will have individual matchups against him Sunday night, but the Patriots should attempt to get two bodies on him for every snap.
Ngata can change an entire game, especially against the pass, by providing interior pressure. Tom Brady would have a much harder time working the pocket if he was getting heat up the middle from Ngata.
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Ravens S Ed Reed
Ed Reed is the ultimate playmaker at safety, but gamblers can be manipulated by quarterbacks who use their eyes well. Brady needs to do that Sunday night, because few players in the history of the game are better at turning telegraphed throws into defensive touchdowns.
Also, expect to see Brandon Lloyd double covered downfield, mostly by a cornerback and Reed. Overthrows or underthrows on deep balls are feasted on by Reed.
Patriots RB Stevan Ridley vs. Ravens LB Ray Lewis
The Patriots ran the football 31 times in the AFC Championship game in January, with Benjarvus Green-Ellis picking 68 yards on just 15 carries. Stevan Ridley, a second-year back from LSU, is a more talented back who should see more than 15 touches in the running game.
New England also needs an effective running game to implement the play-action passing game, as Lewis can be caught playing the run if the threat remains for 60 minutes. At his advanced age, Lewis isn't as effective in recovering in coverage when teams run play-action at him. The Patriots have the weapons (Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker) to hurt Baltimore in the middle of the field if Lewis can be vacated.
Patriots CBs vs. Ravens WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones
Much of the focus in the Ravens' passing game remains with Anquan Boldin—a tough, fearless veteran who can move the chains over the middle of the field. But the Patriots need to make sure Flacco doesn't hit big plays to Smith and Jones, who have both made their share of deep catches already in 2012.
Torrey Smith is arguably one of the faster receivers in football, and Jacoby Jones has been a revelation as a downfield threat after mostly flaming out in Houston. Both players can take the top off a defense in one play.