Baltimore Ravens (7-5) vs New England Patriots (10-2)
8:30pm ET on ESPN
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots have a rich and nasty history, and they both head into tonight’s game with huge playoff implications hanging in the balance. While the stakes may be higher for the Ravens, don’t think for a moment that the Pats are any less motivated.
Baltimore heads into tonight’s action a half-game out of 1st place in the AFC North following the Steelers’ 27-20 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Frankly it’s a miracle that the Ravens are even in the postseason conversation after enduring a 4-game skid that brought their record to 3-4. But six weeks later, they’re right in the thick of it, following a 38-6 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins, in which QB Joe Flacco connected on 36 of 47 for 381 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception, leaving him just 8 yards and a touchdown short of his career highs. Flacco and the Ravens were so dominant that backup Ryan Mallett took over midway through the 4th quarter, after Flacco went over the middle to Breshad Perriman, who scampered up the right side for a 53-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-6. The Ravens’ were just as brutal on the other side of the ball, allowing Miami’s Ryan Tannehill to complete 29 of 40, but for just 226 yards and 1 TD, while picking him off 3 times and sacking him twice. Tannehill’s passer rating of 63.1 was the lowest ever for a guy who’d completed at least 72% of his passes, breaking the mark held by – wait for it – Joe Flacco! The first pick was by Lardarius Webb, who came streaking across the field to pull the ball away from the DeVante Parker in the end zone; the second was on a pass intended for Jarvis Landry that got deflected to Eric Weddle, who ran it back 53 yards, and the final pick, by Jerraud Powers, set up the Ravens’ final score of the game.
The Pats come into the game with a chance to earn the best record in the AFC, and put themselves on track for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but they are limping, in addition to being without Gronk for the rest of the season, 3rd-down receiver and special teams stalwart Danny Amendola will miss today’s game with a high ankle sprain, Martellus Bennett is dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries, and Tom Brady has a bum knee. Brady and Bennett are expected to play, but the offense will not be firing on all cylinders. Last week the Patriots were healthy enough to beat the Rams 26-10, as Brady notched his NFL record 201st win as a quarterback, breaking his tie with Peyton Manning. It was a ho-hum day for Touchdown Tommy, who hit on 33 of 36 for 269 yards and a TD, as Brady turned to LeGarrette Blount for 88 yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries. The Pats offense ran out of steam in the second half, at one point settling for field goals of 45+ yards on three consecutive possessions.
The Pats are 4-0 and score an average of 27.5 points this season without Gronk, versus 6-2 and 26.1 points with him, but it’s hard to think he won’t be missed, especially against the Ravens, who give up a league-low 296 yards, and their 17.3 points per game is the lowest in the league. It’d be tempting to take the Ravens, given all the Pats’ nicks and bruises, but one should never sleep on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home, and the New England D is nothing to sneeze at, given that they’re tied with the Ravens for the second-fewest points per game allowed, and they’ve allowed just 304 yards per game since trading away linebacker Jamie Collins.
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