NFL GAME PREVIEW

AFC Divisional Preview: Ravens at Patriots

The Sports Xchange

January 08, 2015 at 10:24 am.

Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots want to take advantage of home field against the always-tough Ravens. (

Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at New England Patriots (12-4)

Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. – TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: Baltimore is not unnerved by a stroll into the House That Brady Built, winning two of the previous three playoff meetings, including 28-13 in the AFC Championship game in 2013. There are two big reasons for genuine bravado from the Ravens: QB Joe Flacco’s 14 playoff starts include a 7-0 record on the road, and Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees has experience deconstructing Tom Brady’s offense.

The Ravens are expecting LT Eugene Monroe back in the lineup — he didn’t play last week due to an ankle injury — solidifying an offensive line that grasps the plan is to win with the deep ball. Flacco and 35-year-old lead receiver Steve Smith connected five times in the wild-card win, as Baltimore scrapes for positive gains in the running game. But Smith will likely see a lot of All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, forcing Flacco to look elsewhere.

New England had two weeks to ready a game plan, anticipating a 3-4 defense, and TE Rob Gronkowski will be at the center of it all. Gronkowski will see bracket coverage and the Ravens used SS Darian Stewart to cut off deep routes last week. The risk for the Ravens is exposing CB Lardarius Webb man-up with WR Julian Edelman. Webb played every snap at Pittsburgh, but allowed nine catches in 12 targets and a passer rating of 129.2.

Rookie ILB C.J. Mosley joined Ray Lewis as the only Ravens rookies to lead the team in tackles and he owns a lot of land inside the tackles. Critical for the Ravens will be folding the pocket around Brady. DE Terrell Suggs has 12 career playoff sacks and with two last week, Elvis Dumervil has 19 in 17 games this season.

*Matchup to watch – Ravens TE Owen Daniels vs. Patriots LB Jamie Collins: Daniels averaged 17.5 yards per catch at Pittsburgh and is a go-to look on third downs. The Patriots have gone zone-heavy against the Ravens in the past to limit Flacco’s grenade launcher.

*Player spotlight – Patriots NT Vince Wilfork: Recent film of the Ravens’ offensive line showed flaws aplenty. With Monroe back, that group gets stronger, but C Jeremy Zuttah was manhandled at Pittsburgh and will be tested constantly by defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

*Fast facts: Flacco is 10-4 in the playoffs and has gone 166 pass attempts without an interception in the postseason. … Bill Belichick has 19 career playoff wins, one shy of the NFL record (Don Shula, 20). … The Patriots have won 16 of their past 17 home games.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Ravens are capable of the upset with more out of their running game and consistent heat on Brady, but the Patriots historically over-adjust to correct exposed flaws and have earned the favorites label with their Hall of Fame QB-coach combo. Brady delivers in the big spots to push New England to the conference title game.

*Our pick: Patriots 25-21

 

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