FOXBOROUGH – Not many teams have been able to fluster the New England Patriots in the postseason during in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. Then again none of them are the Baltimore Ravens.
Thanks to the likes of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco, the Ravens sport a 2-1 record in the post-season against perhaps the best quarterback and head coach tandem in NFL history. While Reed and Lewis are gone and Rice is out of the league, there is still Flacco and Suggs who may be able to help the Ravens claim their third win over the Patriots in four post-season meetings.
With a week to prepare for the physical and vocal Ravens, the Patriots may finally be able to vanquish their long-time playoff nemesis not named Eli Manning. While Brady has not been his usual brilliant MVP-like self of years past in passing for his lowest yards since 2010 (4,109), Brady stil posted his fifth-best passer rating of his career at 97.4
With a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski in the fold, an emerging Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman in the slot, Brady should be able to attack a suspect Ravens secondary downfield. What may decide this game is the Patriots inability to run the ball.
With Jonas Gray and Shane Vareen combining to rush for a meager 703 yards and seven touchdowns, New England must try to keep the stout pass rush of Baltimore honest by trying to run the ball effectively. Baltimore knows that New England is a pass-first team, what they must look out for is the occasional run, which New England needs to establish if they hope to keep Suggs and Haloti Ngata out of the backfield and off of Brady.
For Baltimore, this game hinges on Flacco continuing his strong play in the post season. In his last seven post-season games, Flacco has thrown 17 touchdowns and one interception, while posting a QB rating of 110.7.
In his last two meetings vs. the Patriots, Flacco has thrown five touchdowns and one interception.
Flacco comes into Foxborough on a roll in passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-17 road win over the arch-rival Steelers—his 10th in the post-season—so the mythical aura of Patriots invincibility will not phase him in the least. Thanks to a balanced attack of Justin Forsett—who rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns—on the ground and Steve and Torrey Smith in the air, Flacco has the luxury to attack an average Patriots secondary.
While New England has Darrelle Revis to help shut down a portion of the field, Flacco has too many weapons and a better defense at his disposal. Look for Flacco to once again get the best of Brady in a close one on the road.
Prediction: Ravens 31 Patriots 28