The final Baltimore Ravens (regular season) home game will be against the New England Patriots on Sunday, with game time at 4:25, lightening permitting – it is predicted to be at about 70 degrees with high humidity.
After the Ravens’ 23-20 OT loss to the Bears on November 17th that dropped their record to 4-6, the season looked rather grim. It seemed that the only hope was for the Ravens to pretty much run the table and win all their remaining games. The good news was that four of the six remaining contests were at home, including the next three. Well, the Ravens swept that three-week home series and then beat a pretty good Detroit team in their Motor City house.
Remaining now is the biggest rumble strip on that six-week road called “Must-Win AVE.” A victory gives the Ravens the guaranteed opportunity to capture the AFC North in Cincinnati next week (and even in the event of a loss, along with a Bengals loss to the Vikings, the divisional title would remain in play).
After having nine of the 14 games this year decided by three points or less, the Ravens-Patriots match-up looks to be yet another nail-biter. Though New England is a perennial powerhouse, they come into this game with a fine 10-4 record; but that includes eight games decided by four points or less – including an uninspiring 24-20 loss to Miami last week. Additionally, the Ravens have not been a franchise frightened by Tom Brady and pals, being 3-3 over the past six games together. Of the six teams over the past six years that have played at least five times against the Pats (Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Broncos, Colts), only the Ravens have a .500 record.
The Patriots last lost two consecutive games at the beginning of the 2012 season (to Baltimore 31-30 and Arizona). At the same time, New England is one of the great teams for success in December, having won 17 of their last 19 games in this month. Brady is 43-7 as a December QB and has not lost two in a row since 2002.
An interesting feature for this game is the presence of two of the very best kickers in the NFL in Justin Tucker and the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski – who leads the NFL in scoring. Tucker’s 33 consecutive field-goals streak is the fourth longest in NFL history.
Here is a quick graphic as to how the teams stack up against each other, and then below it we’ll make two points as particularly key for the game …
|AP Pro32 ranking #6 … Last week #4||AP Pro32 ranking #11 … Last week #12|
|Offense points: 6th||369||Offense points: 25th||296|
|Offense yards: 8th||5470||Offense yards: 29th||4338|
|Pass offense: 6th||272||Pass offense: 19th||227|
|Rush offense: 12th||118||Rush offense: 29th||83|
|Defense points: 10th||311||Defense points: 7th||277|
|Defense yards: 24th||5218||Defense yards: 9th||4676|
|Pass defense: 18th||240||Pass defense: 13th||232|
|Rush defense: 30th||132||Rush defense: 7th||102|
I don’t think there is a long list of major factors to tick off this week. The game essentially features one of the best offenses (Pats) against one of the best defenses (Ravens). It also features just about the worst running game in the NFL (Ravens) against just about the worst running defense (Pats).
I am going to list two factors that strike me as standing above all others. Presuming Joe Flacco is sufficiently healthy with the knee issue (and I believe he is), both he and Tom Brady are going to do their job as top-level quarterbacks and put up some yards. So …
1. Ravens Running Game – Yes, yes, I know we’ve been here before and had this on the list probably, oh, about 15 times now this season! But really, IF Ray Rice (if his wheels are healthy) or whoever can find some success running, thereby opening the passing game even more, the Ravens are going to win this game.
There is a great opportunity here. Patriots teams have been known for great rushing defense, but three season-ending injuries have gutted the very center and core of it: linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Ray Rice has surpassed 125 yards against New England in four of his six games against them, but, that was a different guy with a different line and in a different era than what we have seen this year.
2. Red Zones – This seems to me to be the big issue for both teams. Each has had trouble inside the 20 in recent weeks – the Ravens 0-2 last week, and the Patriots 1-4. I cannot imagine a scenario where the team with the poorer red zone percentage will win this game, apart from some deep turnovers or unusual long passing plays or special teams points.
The Ravens saw what a difference the loss of Dennis Pitta was to the offense, especially in the red zone. The Patriots have a similar loss currently in the continued absence of Ron Gronkowski. This is another great opportunity for the top-notch Ravens red zone defense.
The Red Zone = The Whole Game.
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