The Patriots and Ravens are both coming off disappointing losses in week 2. The Ravens let a golden opportunity slip away, allowing the Eagles to score late in the fourth quarter losing by one point. Letting an opportunity slip away seemed to be the theme of the last time the Patriots and Ravens met. Of course I am referring to the AFC Championship game, a game in which the Ravens seemed to outplay the Patriots. They had not one, but two chances to win the game, or at least send it into overtime. Lee Evans couldn’t secure the ball in the end zone to take the lead, and the one that most people remember, the Billy Cundiff field goal shank to tie it up. The media has fittingly dubbed this game a revenge spot for the Ravens. But with the Patriots fresh off a tough loss to the Arizona Cardinals at home, you can bet that Bill Belichick and the Patriots will be prepared.
The Patriots had the game won last week against the Cardinals until a holding call nullified a long scamper by Danny Woodhead. The Cardinals with a 20-18 lead late in the fourth opened the door for the Patriots, fumbling the ball away to give the Patriots a glorious opportunity. Stephen Gostkowski who was perfect up to that point with four successful makes, missed a 42-yard field goal which would have given the Patriots the victory. This is a game that shouldn’t have even had to come down to that, given the Patriots track record at home. In fact, it was the first in eleven home openers that the Pats lost, the first at Gillette Stadium.
Last year the Patriots problems could be accredited to their defense, but that wasn’t the problem here at all. The offense simply couldn’t get into a groove. The team was just flat. Tom Brady passed for 316 yards, but something was amiss. It didn’t feel like the same old Patriots team that is gleaming with so much poise and confidence. The coaching decisions by Belichick were questionable as well. After the Gronkowski holding call that took away the Woodhead touchdown, the Patriots played the for the 42-yard field goal. Brady killed the clock with approximately 50 seconds left and let Gostkowski try and win the game. It isn’t like Belichick to not want to force the ball and put it in the hands of Brady. Perhaps it was the news of Aaron Hernandez that had the Patriots feeling a little shell shocked. Hernandez will miss 4-6 weeks after getting his leg twisted up during a tackle, suffering a serious ankle injury. This loss proves costly, as Hernandez can line up anywhere on the field posing defenses with matchup nightmares. The Ravens defense has one less thing to worry about that is for sure. Receiver Brandon Lloyd has added another dimension to the Patriots with a deep threat, but they are still waiting on Brady and Lloyd to find the chemistry that Randy Moss and Brady had. Brady’s favorite target, Wes Welker, failed to come to a long term deal in the offseason. Coincidentally Welker has seen a significant drop in playing time. I’m not sure if it is an attempt to throw Patriots future opponents for a loop or what (would anything Belichick does surprise you?), but Welker will need to be on the field nearly every play with the injury to Hernandez.
Defensively, the Patriots are much better than they are a year ago. I don’t believe it will be the kind of transformation the Texans had, but they should go from being the worst, to in the top-15. A big reason for the improvement is directly related to the draft this season. The Patriots drafted two highly coveted defensive players, defensive end Chandler Jones out of Syracuse, and linebacker Donta Hightower from Alabama. The defense currently sits as the second best overall defense statistically behind the Houston Texans. They have only played the Titans and Cardinals, not a great sample size, but it is certainly encouraging that the defense has held strong. It didn’t really matter who the Patriots played last year, they continually allowed big yardage. The Patriot are going to see a new look Ravens offense, not exactly personnel wise, but a new hurry up offense under Flacco. The offense has played pretty well and Flacco hasn’t made any glaring mistakes and are currently averaging 377.5 yards a game. Much of that thanks to the 44 points put up on the Cardinals in week 1.
Patriots vs. Ravens Spread and Betting Odds:
New England Patriots +3 (-125)
@ Baltimore Ravens -3 (+110)
Over 50 (-110)
Under 50 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Patriots vs. Ravens Pick:
Last week the Patriots appeared to lose much of the swagger we have seen out of them the last decade. Never did they seem very confident in what they were doing, and they played conservatively. I’m not a guy that basis a team by one week of play, though. I still believe that this Patriots team is as good, or even better than last year. The defense is vastly improved and they added a deep threat in Brandon Lloyd. We haven’t seen Lloyd at his full potential in this offense yet, but I think he steps up in this spot. While I think the loss of Hernandez is significant, Belichick and company will come up with a good game plan that focuses around Welker and Gronkowski. The Patriots foundation was rocked last week with that injury, but with time to repair, I think it will work out. There are still many targets for Brady to work with in this offense.
Another reason why I believe the Patriots may be better than last year is the running game. Stevan Ridley will be a fixture in the Patriots backfield for a long time, he runs with a ton of confidence and physicality for a second year player. He rarely hesitates, he puts his head down and gets tough yardage. The Ravens defense is good, but that’s about it. Long gone is the Ravens team that put fear into opposing offenses. If it wasn’t for an array of Eagles turnovers deep in Ravens territory, that game wouldn’t have been nearly as close as it was.
Terrell Suggs has been a thorn in the side of Brady; he constantly gets pressure on him and forces him into bad decisions. Luckily for the Patriots, Suggs won’t be anywhere close to Brady on the field. If Suggs was healthy I would feel much better laying 3 points on the Ravens. With that said, give me the Patriots, a team that rarely looks off in back-to-back weeks, and has beaten the Ravens six consecutive times.
PICK = Patriots +3