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NFL Playoff Picks 2012: Why Ray Rice and Ravens Run Game Will Roll over Patriots

Eric Ball@@BigLeagueEballFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a victory during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Ravens defeated the Bengals 24-16.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

I remember it like it was just yesterday.

In New Orleans for the first time in my life, the 2010 Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs didn’t seem all that appealing. With Hurricanes, Hand Grenades and every other funky drink you could imagine in front of me, the heavily favored New England Patriots destroying the Baltimore Ravens didn’t seem all that appealing.

I found myself in a Harrah’s staring at all of the bright lights and listening to the noises of a casino before a loud cheer emerged from the sports bar on the other side of the building. I sprinted over just in time to see Ray Rice land in the end zone after sprinting right up the gut on the Patriots for an 83-yard touchdown run.

It was 7-0 Ravens after 17 seconds of game action. Seventeen first-quarter points later and the underdog Ravens spanked the Pats 33-14 in Foxboro. It was the beginning of the end for successful playoff runs for Tom Brady.

He went on to lose his next home playoff game to the New York Jets in 2011.

Now, after slicing and dicing the Denver Broncos in a 45-10 romp, the Ravens return, this time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

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While plenty of roster turnover has occurred for both teams, the formula is still a simple one: the Ravens must run the ball and the Patriots must stop it.

Whoever succeeds will emerge victorious.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the New England Patriots during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Rice may only stand at 5’8", but he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage this year with 2,068. He was second in the league in rushing (1,364) and second among running backs in receiving (794).

Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick can’t help but gush over him:

I don't think, obviously, any one person can stop a player of his caliber. It takes a great team effort to do that, whether it's running or covering or screen passes. ... We've seen him do it against us, so I have all the respect in the world for Ray Rice. He's a tough football player. He's versatile, and he really can kill you in a lot of different ways.

If Joe Flacco struggles with getting into a rhythm, Rice can help make him feel comfortable. Rice caught an outstanding 73 percent of the passes thrown his way this season.

As a rusher, the Patriots have to keep him between the hash marks, which is something they’ve struggled to do recently. Including the Broncos romp, the Pats have allowed an average of 158.3 yards per game. This is against the likes of Reggie Bush, CJ Spiller and Willis McGahee.

There are real issues there, and I don’t think they suddenly disappear 18 games into the season. Unless Vince Wilfork magically regains the form he played with in years past, the Ravens are going to run right through the teeth of their defense.

The name of the game is moving the chains and keeping Brady and his merry band off of the field while easing the pressure off Flacco. It’s a simple equation and one that Baltimore has already figured out before.

Prediction:

Ravens 26, Patriots 24

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