In what will be a highly entertaining and emotional rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, the Baltimore Ravens travel 400 miles up the Eastern seaboard to take on the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots. The Ravens advanced by stunning the Denver Broncos 38-35 in double overtime, while the Patriots took care of business at home against the Houston Texans. Expect a defensive battle this upcoming Sunday, both of these team’s respective defensive units are capable of locking down opposing offenses and creating big plays. Games of this importance can go either way, and this is year is no exception.
The simulations predict the Pats to win over 65% of the games, on average 27-21. Baltimore has a near 60% probability of beating the +9.5 point spread, while there’s a strong chance (60.6%) that both teams will not surpass the over/under of 51 points. New England won 40.5% of the matches big, while the Ravens won a mere 10.3% of the contests close.
Turnovers will be key, the Pats have a coin flip’s chance of forcing more turnovers than they commit, however a positive turnover margin helps them win 86% of the time. Raven’s quarterback Joe Flacco must have a good game for his team to advance; the Ravens’ QB averaged 1.6 TDs vs 0.6 INT in wins while suffered a horrid 1.13 to 1.07 TD/INT ratio in losses.
On September 23rd, the Ravens escaped with a 31-30 victory behind 380+ passing yards from Flacco. Flacco was able to light up the horrific Patriots secondary, but since that meeting head coach and general manager Bill Belichick has acquired cornerback Aqib Talib. I wouldn’t expect Raven’s WR Torrey Smith to repeat his gaudy numbers (127 yards/6 receptions/2 TDs) posted back in week 3, Talib has done a great job limiting opposing wide outs. Talib limited Houston’s star wide receiver Andre Johnson, holding him under 100 yards and without a TD in last week’s victory. Smith projects to find 61 yards, 3.5 receptions and just 0.2 TDs against the Pats this time around. Veteran WR Anquan Boldin anchors this unit through simulations; he’s added almost 70 yards and 5 receptions.
Since the addition of Talib, the Pats have been able to send five or more pass rushers 35% of all defensive plays. Before the acquisition, the unit was held to a league-low of 15% of the time. In their week 3 matchup, Flacco was successful against 5+ pass rushers but in limited doses. Flacco went 3-4 for 48 yards. Expect new Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to attach downfield; Flacco led the NFL with eighteen 30+ yard passes against four or fewer pass rushers.
If the Pats only rush four, expect Flacco to have a field day: he threw for 334 of his total 382 yards against a weak pass rush. Flacco has yet to throw an interception on passing attempts 20+ yards; he’s 8-of-12 already this postseason. AccuScore projects 270 yards, 1.3 TDs, 0.9 INTs with a 82.6 quarterback rating.
Expect Ravens’ RB Ray Rice to struggle; he simulated 60 yards rushing off a 3.6 yards per carry average. Although he makes his impact in both parts of their offense (simulated 40 yards receiving as well), the Pats finished the regular season ranked 9th in rushing yards allowed per game. They recently held Texans RB Arian Foster, a 2013 Pro Bowler, to just 90 yards on the ground. In Ravens victories, Rice averaged 82 rushing yards but in their simulated losses, he projects to finish with under 50 yards rushing.
The Ravens have witnessed a major boost to their team with the return of their clubhouse and on-the-field leader, middle linebacker Ray Lewis. After missing the majority of the season, Lewis has made his return felt on the field as he’s assumed his role as defensive playmaker for his unit. The main priority of this defense will be shutting down the run, as it is near impossible to stop their passing attack.
While Patriots RB Stevan Ridley simulated averages of just 63 yards rushing, the team overall had over 115 and no back was held under 4 YPC. Offensively, the Patriots will find a weakness in the Ravens defense and exploit it. Last week, after the injury to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Pats inserted little-scouted RB Shane Vereen into the action and found instant success (120 total yards, 3 TDs). Not to say that Vereen won’t enjoy a similar day this upcoming Sunday, but the always unpredictable Patriots will make the star out of one of their positional players.
Tom Brady averaged 290 yards passing but just a 1.4 to 0.7 TD/INT ratio in simulations. Expect his touchdown total to be improved as those represent historically low figures for the former MVP. His numbers regularly pass 300 yards through the air, and despite the loss of Gronk, his output should remain intact.
Historically, Brady has not fared well downfield against the Ravens. He’s just 6-of-22 with four INTs on passes more than 10 yards down the field. Expect the Ravens to bottle up the middle of the intermediate field, forcing Brady to look outside towards WR Brandon Lloyd. While there are two other receivers ahead of him in their simulated averages, Lloyd should have a breakout game and surpass his simulated totals of 67 yards and 0.3 TDs. The absence of Gronkowski will provide fellow TE Aaron Hernandez with more targets; expect Hernandez’s outcome to come close to the projected 74 receiving yards. WR Wes Welker could be in for a huge game, especially if the banged-up Ravens linebackers are forced to cover him in the slot. Welker projects to finish with 91 yards off 7.5 receptions.
Despite the Ravens beat the Patriots already this season, New England should be able to defeat their new rivals and make another appearance in the Super Bowl. I wouldn’t count out the Ravens, they do have plenty of offensive fire power and can still create havoc on defense. I don’t see a blowout for either squad, but I still like the Pats 28-20.