The postseason continues, with the Ravens marching onwards alone. Your faithful sidelinereport.com AFC North writing staff has survived their disastrous regular season by picking obvious favorites and being woefully disappointed time and again (more to come in another column).
Sporting a collective 2-4 record after Wild Card Weekend (thanks, Pittsburgh…and who picked the Bengals?), we take a look into our crystal ball, which, curiously, looks like a used bowling ball.
Keep in mind that these picks are for entertainment purposes only, and in no way should be used to influence gambling or illegal activity, unless you’re smart enough to recognize that we know more than you because we publish things.
On to the action…
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) @ New England Patriots (12-4)
January 10, 2015 4:30pm, NBC
The Ravens travel to New England for a fourth playoff showdown in six years. The only times these two AFC powerhouses haven’t met in the postseason during that time were in 2008, when the Patriots missed the playoffs (also Joe Flacco’s rookie year) and last season, when the Ravens missed the playoffs.
What to watch:
Ravens’ front 7 versus Brady and the O line: With standout rookie lineman Timmy Jernigan returning to practice this week, and Haloti Ngata returning to form, an already ferocious Ravens defensive line gets a boost another week into the playoffs. Couple strong line play with pressure off the edges from Elvis Dumervil (19 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (13 sacks), and New England could be in trouble.
The Patriots were 18th in rushing yards and 22nd in rush yards per attempt during the regular season, suggesting that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and company will run just to keep the defense honest, but rely heavily on the pass. The Ravens’ line needs to get inside pressure, which the Patriots’ offensive line is susceptible, and disrupt QB Tom Brady. Brady’s line has protected him well this season (top 5, sacked 21 times), but being successful against the Ravens’ front has proven to be a difficult challenge all season.
What hasn’t been a challenge until recent weeks is passing the ball against the Ravens secondary. The line’s play has unquestionably aided a patchwork group of defensive backs tighten up over the last five weeks (fewer than 200 yards passing allowed). Facing their first real QB threat last week in Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens back end allowed 319 yards. Was that the result of the Steelers committing entirely to the pass, or an indication of things to come this Saturday?
If the Ravens’ front seven can replicate their effort from last week, when they sacked Roethlisberger 5 times, and shut down New England’s mediocre run game, they stand a chance to win.
Flacco and receivers vs Patriots secondary: The Patriots successfully revamped their secondary this past offseason, after many years of trying to piece together underwhelming draft picks. The acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to lead the secondary have paid huge dividends. The Patriots moved from the bottom of the league to middle of the pack in terms of passing yards allowed (240 yards/game, 16th in NFL) this season, but have limited offenses to an average of just 206 yards per game over the last 4 weeks.
With few proven, consistent options for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to, but a cast full of high-potential pass catchers, expect Revis and Browner to focus on shutting down he Ravens’ Smith duo (Torrey and Steve Sr.). Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken Jacoby Jones, Owen Daniels and Kyle Jusczczyk will need to step up for the Ravens to have a chance, especially if Justin Forsett and the run game continue to stall.
The Ravens have a history of getting the best of New England, in Foxborough, during the playoffs, but these are two different teams than those that faced each other in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.
To win, the Ravens are going to have to be aggressive and play one of their best games, on both sides of the ball. Anything less simply won’t be enough. Look for the Ravens to give up a few big plays that result in the deciding points. Patriots 24-20
|Ravenous128||Ravens @ Patriots||Patriots 23-21|
|Panthers @ Seahawks||Seahawks 21-10|
|Cowboys @ Packers||Cowboys 31-28|
|Colts @ Broncos||Colts 28-17|
|Peatwo||Ravens @ Patriots||Patriots 23-20|
|Panthers @ Seahawks||Seahawks 16-13|
|Cowboys @ Packers||Packers 27-24|
|Colts @ Broncos||Broncos 31-23|
|DOOOMMEEEEDD||Ravens @ Patriots||Patriots 24-20|
|Panthers @ Seahawks||Seahawks 24-17|
|Cowboys @ Packers||Packers 26-21|
|Colts @ Broncos||Broncos 24-20|