What a quick moving season this has been, as we already into the Conference championship round, and only two weeks away from the Super Bowl. Even though it is a different season, familiar foes face off in the AFC Championship game, the Ravens and Patriots. Ray Lewis’ farewell tour has been a success thus far, pulling off the unthinkable last weekend, knocking off the Broncos in Denver. Thanks to an 80-yard miracle bomb by Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones, Ravens tied the game up and ultimately captured the 38-35 victory. The win I think certainly helped the Patriots, as they will get to welcome the Ravens to Gillette Stadium and not have to travel to Denver. The Patriots, in typical Patriots fashion, dismantled the hapless Texans en route to 41-28 win. It was the second time this season the Patriots easily took care of business against the Texans. Their only meeting against the Ravens didn’t quite pan out the same way, dropping a 31-30 thriller in Baltimore. The Patriots have looked much crisper since then, most notably on defense. When these two meet up, it usually ends in a great game.
The Patriots are heading into this one with some injuries worth mentioning. Tight end Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm once again last week and will be unavailable this week. Running back Danny Woohead will also be nursing a sore hand, but should get the nod to start. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Chandler Jones was limited in practice this week, a situation worth keeping an eye on. Nevertheless, when has injuries ever slowed the Patriots down? Especially on offense, the Patriots just come up with a new game plan that focuses around the players that are on the field. They installed running back Shane Vereen in multiple spots last week, even running a few plays where Gronkowski would usually be, and they came up with much success. Vereen was the hero of the game for the Pats, carrying seven times for 41 yards with a touchdown, and five receptions for 83 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Vereen adds another element to the Patriots’ offense that was unseen in the regular season. They have so many weapons around Brady that they can afford an injury here and there. Despite injuries through the year, the Pats ranked 1st in total offense and first in scoring, putting up an average of 34.8 points per game.
While the offense is operating like the Patriots we have come to known, the defense has taken major steps forward. Thanks to an excellent frontline and spectacular linebacker play from the lines of O.J. Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Donta Hightower, the Patriots are reverting back to their dynasty days of the early 2000’s. The Patriots held Arian Foster to only 90 yards, not bad against a back of his caliber. The Texans got their yards through the air, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Patriots. They made pivotal stops and key moments, like they have done all year. A sack at an important moment or interception has been the Patriots’ modus operandi all season long.
The Ravens’ offense is a mixed bag, one week they look like a top-5 team, and the next Flacco looks completely lost. Last week, however, was one of those weeks when Flacco and the Ravens couldn’t make a mistake. The Broncos defense is no slouch, but the Ravens made them look like a bad unit. The most surprising part of the game was how easily Torrey Smith torched cornerback Champ Bailey. Smith finished with 98 yards and 2 touchdowns, making Bailey look like a player that is well over the hill. Flacco put forth an impressive game as well, passing for 331 yards, 3 touchdowns, and most importantly no interceptions. Running back Ray Rice also found running room, rushing for 131 yards and 1 touchdown. The Ravens needed a flawless game to overcome the Broncos, and they did just that.
Ravens vs. Patriots Spread and Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens +9 (-105)
@ New England Patriots -9 (-115)
Over 51.5 (-110)
Under 51.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Ravens vs. Patriots Pick:
I am going to zero in on the Ravens defense to make a pick here, because I think that is what it is going to come down to. If they play the way they did the last two weeks they will have an excellent chance at hanging around in this one. If they revert back to regular season form this could very well be a blowout. The Ravens are undoubtedly riding a high due to Ray Lewis’ return from injury, and the subsequent announcement that this will be his final season. Lewis is playing with a heavy heart and the team has certainly responded, but will it make a different when Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense are operating in warp speed? By the 4th quarter is the older Ravens’ defense going to be grasping for air? I am leaning towards yes. The problem I have with the Ravens is the age of their defense and productivity out of some cogs in their defense that used to be standouts (looking at you Suggs and Reed).
The Patriots are well aware that the Ravens’ defense is no where as good as it once was, and no where as it was even last year when they met in this same spot. They are aware that they are aging, and are also aware that the Ravens just played an emotional thriller against the Broncos in overtime last week. The Patriots’ offense will push, push, and push some more and dare them to stay on their toes. Another thing on the Patriots side is the weather with winds up to 25mph are to be expected. The Patriots use short, dink and dunk passes. Brady is one of the best there is playing in unfavourable weather conditions. Conversely, the Ravens depend on the deep ball plenty. Their big plays come from Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin getting separation deep down field. If the forecast holds and it is a windy affair, Flacco should be limited in getting accurate balls to his targets.
With regards to the line, I have myself scratching my head. The 31-30 Ravens’ win this season and 23-20 loss season that are still fresh in the minds of the public. So, why would they throw a line like this out there? I think they are expecting a big Patriots’ victory. Patriots -6.5 or -7 would have indicated anticipation of a close game. I will lay the points with the Patriots in a game that should be close for 3 quarters, with the better team will ultimately win comfortably in the end.
PICK = Patriots -9