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Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots Preview and Prediction

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are very much in the thick of the postseason races. But while Patriots fans are in their usual December “let’s just stay healthy for the playoffs” mode, Ravens fans are already treating every week like a playoff game.

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New England (10-2) is three games clear in the lost column of Miami in the AFC East. The Dolphins beat Arizona on Sunday, so the Patriots can’t clinch the division with a victory tonight, but it can get one step closer to that goal. A victory also would give the Pats a one-game edge on Kansas City and Oakland in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Baltimore, on the other hand, can’t worry about the postseason yet. The Ravens need a win to tie Pittsburgh at 8-5, although Baltimore has the clear advantage when it comes to divisional record (4-0 vs. 2-1). The Ravens play three of their last four on the road, including a trip to face the Steelers on Christmas Day in a game that could decide the AFC North. In other words, it’s safe to say Baltimore needs a win more than New England.

Both teams have been playing well; the Ravens have won four of five since their bye, although all four wins have come at home. Baltimore hasn’t won on the road since Week 2 at Cleveland. The Patriots have won seven of eight since Tom Brady’s return from suspension and are averaging more than 400 yards of offense with him at the helm. Some things just never change.

Baltimore at New England

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

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Three Things to Watch

1. The evolution of the Patriots’ offense without Gronk

Playing without Rob Gronkowski isn’t an entirely new thing for the Patriots. He missed chunks of the season in both 2012 and ‘13 and hasn’t played in all 16 games since ‘11. Still, Gronkowski represented New England’s biggest deep threat and still led the NFL in yards per catch (21.6) when his season ended two weeks ago because of a back injury. Fellow tight end Martellus Bennett does have three 100-yard games this season, but he has been nicked up himself. And with Gronkowski out last week against the Rams, Bennett caught just two passes for four yards. Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell was targeted a season-high 10 times and caught eight passes, a trend that could continue. Also expect to see a lot of running backs Dion Lewis and James White. The pair combined for eight catches on 10 targets last week, and LeGarrette Blount usually takes care of the ground game. Against the NFL’s top run defense, Blount may be neutralized.

2. Ravens’ offense picking up the pace

Quarterback Joe Flacco has expressed his desire to run more no-huddle, and he may be on to something. Baltimore rarely huddled in the first half last week against Miami, jumping to a 24–0 lead on its way to 496 total yards and a 38-6 win. Despite sitting out the final nine minutes, Flacco racked up a franchise-record 36 completions on 47 attempts for 381 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Could the Ravens’ offense, still ranked just 17th, be turning a corner? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Baltimore has only one other game with as many as 400 yards this season and until last week hadn’t scored more than 28 points in any game. The Patriots very quietly have moved into the top 10 in total defense and are actually tied with Baltimore for the second-fewest points allowed in the league. Huddle or not, the Ravens will have a tough time repeating last week’s success.

3. Blount force vs. Baltimore’s run defense

As we mentioned above, this matchup may not get much play between the 20s, because when you have Brady there is no point wasting much time trying to run on the Ravens. But Blount has been a huge factor at the goal line this season, racking up a league-best 13 rushing touchdowns. Baltimore, though, has allowed only four, best in the NFL. If the Ravens can stop Blount in the red zone and hold New England to field goals, they will have a chance to pull the upset.

Final Analysis

The Ravens have never won in New England during the regular season (0-5) but strangely are 2-1 in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium. As good as their defense is and as good as the offense looked last week, its tough to see that trend changing. This isn’t a great matchup for Baltimore because New England is happy to throw the ball instead of running it into a brick wall all night. The Ravens also thrive on turnovers (nine takeaways in their last four wins), but the Patriots take care of the ball (NFL-low eight turnovers and only four since Brady’s return). Brady hasn’t lost two home starts in the same season since 2012, and he won’t this season either.

NFL Power Rankings: Patriots

Prediction: Patriots 20, Ravens 16