NFL Wild-card Weekend
In the early game on Sunday, the 9-7 Baltimore Ravens will travel to Foxboro to play the 10-6 New England Patriots in a 1:00 p.m. start.
It took them to the final week of the regular season, but Baltimore was able to scratch and claw their way into the postseason by winning three out of their last four games to wind up earning the No. 6 seed.
New England had their share of ups and downs this season but they were also able to pull things together down the stretch winning three of four to capture the AFC East and lock up the No. 3 seed. These teams did meet earlier in the year with the Patriots coming away with a 27-21 win at home.
The Ravens head into the postseason after pounding out a 21-13 win over Oakland last week. Despite the fact that the Raiders had only won five games all year, they still gave them all they could handle doing their best to play spoiler two years in a row after knocking Tampa out of the playoffs in 2008.
Baltimore relied on a solid ground game racking up 240 rushing yards with Willis McGahee accounting for 167. Second-year QB Joe Flacco, who has struggled at times this year managed the game well completing 11-of-19 attempts. Overall, like many of the Ravens games the second half of this season it was not necessarily pretty, but effective.
New England came into the final week with the sole intention of staying healthy, as a win or loss had little bearing on their playoff position. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case as their go-to receiver, as Wes Welker went down with a left knee injury early in the first quarter and is lost for the season. They went on to lose to Houston 34-27, but that pales in comparison to the loss of Welker.
Baltimore has been a hard team to figure out all season long. In their first seven games they scored over 30 points five times. In their last nine games they went over that total only twice; against Detroit and Chicago.
Their defense has remained solid, giving up an average of 16.3 points and 300.5 yards per game which is third best in the league, but Flacco's overall inconsistency offensively have been part of the Ravens' problems. He did throw for over 3,600 yards with a passer rating of 88, but it did not always translate to points on the board. The real strength of this offense is their running game led by Ray Rice. Rice ended up with 1339 rushing yards on 254 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He also had 78 receptions for 702 yards to go over 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the year.
As Tom Brady goes, so does New England. After missing almost all last season with a knee injury, Brady got off to a slow start, but was still able to lead his team to six wins in their first eight games. After losses to Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Miami people began to question if they would even make the postseason, but in typical Brady fashion he rallied the team to another division title.
Statistically, this team is as good as any other in the playoffs. Their offense is ranked third overall, and their defense, which has bared much of the blame for a subpar season by their standards, is ranked fifth in points allowed.
For Baltimore, they need Rice to come up with his biggest game of the year in order to control the clock and minimize Brady’s time on the field. They are not going to beat the Patriots with Flacco having to throw the ball 30-40 times.
Defensively, they need to take Randy Moss out of the game as he is still a deep threat. Without Welker in the lineup, this could be the perfect time to force Brady to beat you with his arm as he will most likely struggle without his favorite target.
For New England, they need Moss to get open down-field and make a few big plays to put some quick points on the board. They will struggle to run against the Ravens, so Brady will have to be able to spread the ball around to which ever receivers are in the game. Keep an eye on rookie WR Julian Edelman as he could come up big in this one. Defensively, they have to contain Rice and keep him from tearing off any big runs. Their best bet is to try and rattle Flacco from the start to throw him off his game.
You cannot discount the loss of Welker to New England, but you also cannot discount the resolve of this team. They have been there before and know how to win these types of games. Baltimore will be able to keep this one close, but in the end it will not be enough. Take the Patriots and the UNDER.
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