A Grudge Match for the Ages: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

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A Grudge Match for the Ages: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
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With the AFC Wild Card and divisional round matchups in the history books, it all comes down to a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game when the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

In last year’s game, Baltimore had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter, but Lee Evans had a touchdown stripped out of his hands. Then to add insult to injury, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have evened the score and sent the game into overtime. Instead, the Ravens suffered another heartbreaking defeat in the AFC Championship game by a score of 23-20.

However, New England and Baltimore are no strangers to one another as they have had some epic clashes over the years. Most recently, the Patriots and the Ravens faced each other in Week 3, with Baltimore ending up victorious in a controversial game that ended on a Justin Tucker 27-yard field goal as time expired—giving the Ravens a 31-30 victory.

This AFC Championship game has all the makings for another classic battle between two heavyweights with bad blood between them. You can bet that there will be some hard-hitting defense in this matchup, as Ray Lewis and the Ravens will try to do everything in their power to put pressure on Brady and force him into making mistakes.    

The Ravens are flying high after upsetting the heavily-favored Denver Broncos on the road in sub-degree wind chill temperatures. The game was an instant classic as Baltimore reigned victorious in a double overtime thriller that ended on a Justin Tucker 47-yard field goal.

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The game went back and forth with Baltimore and Denver taking turns leading the game. Every time Peyton and the Broncos would take a lead Flacco and the Ravens offense would answer back and tie the score.

Joe Flacco played the game of his life, throwing for 331 yards with three TD’s to his credit. With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Flacco led Baltimore to tie the score with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game.

The Ravens would then force Manning into throwing a key interception late in the first overtime period that would eventually set up the game-winning field goal for Baltimore. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense came up big when they needed to the most with Flacco hitting Jacoby Jones deep for the game tying score.

Flacco was well protected throughout the game and was able to throw for big gains down field. Ray Lewis also gave it his all in what could have been the future Hall-of-Famer’s last game of his professional career. Lewis ended up leading the Ravens defense in total tackles with 17.

However, in my opinion, Joe Flacco was the MVP of the game as he proved to all his critics that he is ready to be a leader and take his team to the Promise Land. Flacco outplayed the great one in Peyton Manning and he will look to do the same against another future Hall-of-Famer in Tom Brady.

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Flacco’s numbers speak for themselves, as he has thrown for 613 yards to go along with five TDs and no interceptions in his two playoff games this postseason.  Baltimore has also received huge production from Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

The big question mark for the Ravens will be their defense as Tom Brady has shredded defenses all season long. Brady threw for 4,827 yards during the season to go along with a completion percentage of 63 percent. Brady also attributed for 34 TDs with just eight interceptions.

The Patriots offense led the league in points per game with 34.8 and yards per game with 427.9. New England has always had a dynamic passing game, but now they have a running game to compliment it. Brady has been able to mesh the aerial display with the rushing attack very nicely with Stevan Ridley accounting for 1,263 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns during the season.

However, New England’s wide receivers and tight ends account for most of the Patriots offensive production as Brady has the luxury of throwing to targets like Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. Unfortunately for the Patriots, one of Brady’s favorite weapons in Gronkowski is out for the rest of the postseason after suffering an injury during the Houston game.

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Gronkowski ended up breaking his left forearm once again and will need surgery to repair it. The injury occurred early in the game when Gronkowski landed on his forearm after attempting to catch a pass down the side line. The “Gronk” will be missed by the Patriots offense but New England proved that they could still win without him as Brady led the Patriots to a big victory over the Texans by a score of 41-28.

 

The Patriots offense had little trouble moving the ball against the Texans defense, but Baltimore will be a whole other story. It is true that the Ravens defense is not what it once was but they did a great job of holding Indianapolis to field goals and pressuring Peyton Manning into making mistakes that he doesn’t normally make.

The Baltimore defense has been able to come up with key turnovers in the playoffs when they needed to the most. They sealed a victory over the Colts with a late interception and they were able to intercept Manning twice—with one interception being run back for a touchdown and the other setting up a game-winning field goal.

On the other side of the field, the Patriots defense is no slouch either when it comes to turnovers as they usually make the other team pay by putting points on the board. New England is great at converting turnovers into points so Flacco and the Baltimore offense better keep their turnovers to a minimum or else the Patriots will have a field day.

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Flacco has come up big for Baltimore this postseason and I see no reason why that would change against New England. The Ravens offensive line must continue to protect Flacco and give him enough time to survey the field and find the open man. Also, Baltimore must figure out how to block Vince Wilfork and open up some running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The Ravens must be able to run the ball effectively to take some pressure off of Flacco and the passing game.

 

One aspect that both teams will need to address before this weekend’s matchup is their sloppy special team’s coverage during the divisional round of the playoffs. Baltimore allowed Denver to score two touchdowns on a kickoff and punt return while New England gave up two big returns of their own—allowing Houston to score 10 points as a result. If these problems are still existent, watch out for some big returns and great field position by both teams on Sunday.

This matchup could go either way and there is the possibility for this to be a high-scoring affair considering the points that were scored by both teams last week, but I believe that it will all come down to defense and who will be able to control the ball.

In the past, the Ravens have been able to pressure Brady and force him into throwing the ball into tight windows; however, Brady should have a big game none the less. Baltimore may be able to force a few turnovers, but New England should be able to force some turnovers of their own and make Flacco uncomfortable in the pocket.

With the way these matchups have trended over the past few years, the game will come down to the final seconds once more with a field goal being the difference in the outcome. With recent developments, one would say that Baltimore will go all the way and send Ray Lewis out on a high note and win the Super Bowl. Be that as it may, when Brady and the Patriots get to the AFC Championship game they don’t often lose.

It’s difficult to go against the Ravens after the incredible performance that they put on in their upset victory over the Broncos, but I see Brady pulling this one out in the end and reminding everyone that he is the No. 1 quarterback in the league.  

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