The Patriots (10-4) head into Baltimore to face the Ravens (8-6) in what may be the biggest game of the Patriots season. If the Patriots win this Sunday, they lock up the AFC East, stay in connention for the number 1 seed in the AFC, and will most likely knock the Ravens out of the playoffs.
The Ravens started off the season 3-5, and have gone 5-1 since. Although Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed and the Ravens went their separate ways, they still have one of the best defenses in the league. They have the 7th best rush defense in the league and the 13th best pass defense. But the Ravens have struggled moving the ball on offense this year. The Ravens have the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league. After a great season last year (1,412 rush yards), Ray Rice has had a miserable 2013 campaign, rushing for only 605 yards on 197 rushing attempts. Ray Rice has only rushed for over 75 yards twice this season. He also has not been the receiving threat he has been in past seasons, catching only 49 balls for 263 yards, which is only a 5.4 yard average. The Ravens passing attack has not been much better, as it ranks 20th in the NFL. That being said, the Patriots pass defense made Ryan Tannehill look like Joe Montana last week.
Joe Flacco has been successful against the Patriots in the past, winning 3 out of six contests (which is good considering how dominant the Patriots have been during Flacco’s career). Flacco has thrown 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in those 6 games. Expect Flacco to have a good game against the Patriots secondary.
The Patriots defense needs to step up this week. Although the Ravens Offense has been struggling, they still have two talented wide receivers in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, who can hurt you at any given moment with a big play. Talib, who is finally starting to get healthy, and Dennard need to make sure these guys do not get behind them. If they do, Flacco will hit them down the field and it will be a very long day for this Patriots defense. Although Ray Rice has been struggling, he is still a very talented running back and could have a breakout game at any given time. The Patriots need to make sure they stop Rice early and often so he cannot get in any sort of rhythm running the ball.
A key injury to keep an eye on is Linebacker Brandon Spikes. Spikes is an anchor on the inside for this Patriots defense, and if he is a no go, I believe Ray Rice could break out of his funk and have a solid game for the Ravens.
The Patriots are expecting to have Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins back this week, which in my opinion is absolutely huge for this offense. Dobson and Thompkins can stretch the field for the Patriots, which will open up the underneath game for guys like Edelman and Amendola. But it will also open up the game for Shane Vereen. Vereen struggled last week against the Dolphins, as he only caught the ball 3 times of 8 yards and only rushed the ball 2 times for 17 yards. The reason Vereen struggled is the Dolphins defense really did not have to focus on a vertical threat for the Patriots which moved their defensive backs up which meant they could close in on Vereen quickly every time he caught the ball. But with Dobson and Thompkins back the Ravens will be forced to keep guys back which should open up the game for Vereen. Expect a big game from Vereen this Sunday. If you have Vereen in fantasy, start him, you heard it here first.
The Ravens are a good team, but they struggle on offense. Last week they did not score a single touchdown but somehow still came away with a win (thanks to Justin Tucker). The Patriots should be able to put up points even though the Ravens have one of the better defenses in the league. The Patriots defense will give up a lot of yards, but I think they will stop Flacco and company when it matters most, inside the red zone. As long as the Patriots are forcing the Ravens to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, like the Lions did last week, the Patriots will win this game. Even though the Ravens have the 13th ranked pass defense in the league I believe Tom Brady will find a way like he always does and torch their secondary. Patriots win 24-23 and bounce the Ravens from playoff contention.