By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots go on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens in week sixteen.
The Patriots (10-4) are coming off a road loss against the Miami Dolphins. On the other side, the Ravens (7-7) look to continue their win streak after defeating the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has led New England to 10 division titles and needs one more to tie Don Shula for the most division titles since the 1970 NFL merger (11). The Pats are a NFL best 47-7 in the month of December since 2001.
Baltimore has now won four games in a row and are playing their best football of the year. These two teams last met in the 2012 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, 2013, when the Ravens won 28-13 at Gillette Stadium.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Ravens win:
Control the Line of Scrimmage: Offensively, Baltimore needs to get tailback Ray Rice and backup Bernard Pierce the ball early and often to establish the ground game. The Ravens are not as run-oriented as they have been in past years, but New England’s defensive line has shown they can be pushed around and putting the offensive line in “attack” mode should result in success.
The Ravens also need to be physical with their front seven and challenge the Patriots up the middle of their offensive line. The Patriots have lost several contests this season when the opponents have physical fronts; Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins as examples. Baltimore has the personnel to cause the same problems.
Keep Pats Off-balenced: As aforementioned, Baltimore should lean on the ground attack versus New England. That being said, the Ravens should test the Patriots deep throughout Sunday’s contest. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are both good outside threats with great speed.
Since the Pats defense is suffering key injuries, the defense has not been as solid as it was to start the season. If Joe Flacco is given enough time, he should be able to take shots down the field. If the Pats stack the line of scrimmage to defend the run, test the defensive backs downfield.
Force Throws Outside The Numbers: New England has two very productive receivers in Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, however, they’re struggling to pass the ball outside. Baltimore should focus on the middle of the field and make the Pats throw outside where they have not had the same success with the wide outs winning one-on-one against opposing defensive backs. If the Ravens clog the middle of the field, their chances of winning are significantly increased.
How The Patriots Win:
Win In The Redzone: The Ravens have only allowed 15 touchdowns in the redzone this season. In fact, Baltimore has the fourth best redzone defense in the NFL. The Patriots struggled last week in Miami, going 1-4 inside the Dolphins 20 yard line. The loss of Rob Gronkowski hurts, but New England has to get creative and find ways to score seven points. If they settle for field goals, they’ll find themselves playing for their season in week 17.
Minimize Big Plays: The Ravens will look to push the ball downfield. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are both big play-receiving threats for Baltimore. New England needs to make the Ravens earn their yardage and keep plays in front of them. Pats safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory will have their hands full.
Finish Strong: The Ravens and Patriots have played 16 games this season decided by 3 points or less. New England is 6-1, Baltimore is 5-4. Both teams have played down to the wire and the Pats have been praised for their mental toughness, but have come up short on the road more often than not this season; posting a 3-4 record. New England needs to capitalize on their opportunities and finish the game strong. If they don’t, the game could come down to the last drive and that’s a bad spot to be on the road.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Patriots 20.
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