Los Angeles, CA
New year. Same teams.Will Baltimore get revenge this time and knock off New England, Belichick, and Brady? Or is Baltimore just a mere obstacle in the way of New England's march to the Super Bowl?
Baltimore (12-6) at New England (13-4)
Time: 20th January at 6:30 pm ET
Opening Lines: -9 and 51
Current Lines: -7.5 and 51.5
We have a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. Baltimore lost 23-20 after their former kicker Billy Cundiff missed a potential game tying FG in the last minute. Baltimore has another shot at a Super Bowl berth, but will New England be the foil for them once again? New England was upset by the New York Giants in last year’s Super Bowl, so head coach Bill Belichick had his team focused on a single mission to return to the big game and win it all.
New England (10-7 ATS) is much stronger than Baltimore (8-9-1 ATS) on paper, but will they cover -9? These two teams have historically played super close bloody-knuckle games including a slugfest in Week 3. New England was a favorite every game this season except one, when they were a +2.5 underdog at Baltimore. New England lost that game 31-30.
New England lost Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead last week due to in-game injuries, yet Tom Brady picked apart Houston’s secondary and still torched their defense for 41 points. Woodhead’s replacement, Shane Vereen, stepped up and scored two receiving TDs and one rushing TD. New England is 13-0 this season when they rush for 100 or more yards. The running back tandem of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 123 yards last week. Both of them will be a major key in this week’s battle plan.
Even without Gronk, New England’s high-octane offense is tough to stop. This has all the elements for a high-scoring game. Baltimore caught several breaks in a double overtime victory against Denver, but they never gave up when they fell behind. Baltimore’s defense, anchored by Ray Lewis, created a huge turnover in overtime and intercepted Peyton Manning, which helped set up a winning FG. You almost have to take the points here with Baltimore, only because Joey Flacco is a stupendous quarterback on the road in the playoffs. Flacco is on a heater over the last two playoff games (against Indianapolis and Denver) with 613 passing yards, 5 TDs and zero interceptions.
If Baltimore is going to win… Flacco will have to keep gambling it up by attacking New England down field with bombs to Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and last week’s hero Jacoby Jones. Baltimore’s offensive line must win the battle of the trenches and keep New England away from Flacco (O-line only gave up one sack last week vs. Denver), and help open up running lanes for Ray Rice. If Rice gets rolling early on, it’ll alleviate some of the Flacco’s offensive burden. On defense, Baltimore must shut down WR Wes Welker (131 yards vs. Houston), who has killed them over the last few seasons. Brady loves to spread the ball around, so they cannot overlook anyone on New England’s roster (e.g. third string RB Shane Vereen, who scored 3 TDs and posted 124 combined yards vs. Houston). Brady also doesn’t like to get pushed around. If the Ravens can crank up the pressure early on, they might get Brady out of sync. Baltimore’s run D held Denver to 125 yards in 5+ quarters of play and will be looking to shut down Stevan Ridley. Baltimore’s secret weapon is rookie kicker Justin Tucker (30 of 33 FGs in the regular season), who kicked a clutch game-winning FG last week in Denver.
If New England is going to win… their defense has to shut down Ray Rice (131 yards and 1 TD vs. Denver) and the running game, and their secondary cannot let Boldin and Smith sneak behind them. CB Aqib Talib will get the assignment to shadow Smith, and Talib has enough speed to keep up with him. Busted coverage led to Denver’s demise last week, so New England has to set up a no-fly zone and shut down Flacco’s long-range aerial attack. New England’s premier pass rusher, Chandler Jones, injured his ankle last week and they hope he’ll be effective as part of the pass rush that harasses Flacco. Brady will keep Baltimore’s defense on its toes with no huddle and hurry up offense. New England struggled to establish an effective rushing game in Week 3’s loss to Baltimore, but they’ll look to run the ball down Baltimore’s throats with a one-two combo of Ridley and Vereen. Gronk’s injury is a huge loss any way you cut it, but New England went 4-1 without Gronk in the regular season, and Aaron Hernandez (85 receiving yards vs. Houston) is more than capable of being a primary target in the Red Zone.
Pauly's Prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 24