Now that the honeymoon period is over following the Patriots AFC Divisional victory over the Texans, the team is setting their sights on the Ravens. Despite having lost 31-30 to Baltimore back in week 3 on a last-second Justin Tucker field goal, New England has the necessary weapons to take this game, not to mention the fact they have home field advantage, they have a very successful playoff history under Bill Belichick, and the replacement refs were on the field that week. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that last part to resurface the sheer frustration football fans were forced to endure early in the season.
The Patriots and Ravens match up very well against each other, and for each fault one team has, the other has a separate strength. On a very base level, New England has a stronger offense. According to ESPN, they’ve collected over 1,000 yards more than Baltimore this year and have scored 59 touchdowns, compared to Baltimore’s 39. The Patriots also have a very impressive turnover ratio of +25, whereas the Ravens have an impressive, but not nearly as impressive +9 for 2012.
The stark differences between Tom Brady and Joe Flacco can be spotted just by watching a game involving either quarterback, and the stats only strengthen that fact. Tom tossed 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns more then Flacco this season, not to mention he gave up a mere 10 turnovers (8 interceptions and 2 fumbles) compared to Flacco’s 19 (10 picks, 9 fumbles).
As for the rushing game, the two teams are pretty evenly matched, which may come as a surprise to you. Ravens RB Ray Rice, who’s considered a premier running back in the NFL, ran for 1,143 yards and 9 touchdowns this year. Pats RB Stevan Ridley, still considered an up-and-comer, ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, and both had a respectable average of 4.4 yards per carry. The Ravens have a stronger second man in Bernard Pierce (532 yds, 3 tds), but after him lies a substantial dropoff. The Patriots have a much deeper and more versatile bench, with the three backs behind Ridley rushing for more than 250 yards and multiple touchdowns apiece. In total, New England rushed for 2,184 yards this year, and Baltimore racked up 1,901.
In terms of receiving, the Patriots definitely have the edge, mostly due to the lethal combination of Brady and Welker. The Ravens aren’t exactly slouches in that fashion, though Anquan Boldin pretty muc just put up the numbers you’d expect out of him, third-year TE Dennis Pitta improved but is still developing as a player, and Torrey Smith saw decent numbers, but was far from the standout WR many expected him to be and barely improved upon his rookie year stats.
The defensive side of the ball tips slightly in Baltimore’s favor, if only due to consistency. New England has had its issues this year on defense, but really started to put it together as the season went on. The Ravens held opponents to less passing yards by a few hundred, though the Patriots managed to pull down 20 picks to the Ravens’ 13, and both teams recorded 37 sacks this season. New England showed a stronger rush defense by holding opponents to only 1,630 yards compared to Baltimore’s 1,965, but then again, it would be hard to run against any team that had Vince Wilfork in the trenches. The tipping point, though, is the Ravens’ fearsome linebacker and defensive leader, Ray Lewis. He’s calling it quits at the end of this season, so expect to see him playing with no abandon since every game is now his last.
Numbers aside, the last three games between these two teams have come down to a field goal or less, so a vicious battle will surely be fought on the grounds of Gillette this Sunday.