Predicting the Ravens-Patriots division round game

All of a sudden, everyone wants to jump on the Baltimore Ravens bandwagon.

If you’ve spent any time watching ESPN or read any of the various football writers out there, you’ve noticed what Ravens fans have known for a while: that Joe Flacco is on another level in the playoffs, and that the Ravens have outplayed the Patriots the last three times they’ve met in January, coming away with two wins. All the talk is about how afraid Tom Brady and the New England Patriots should be to face Baltimore in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The Patriots should be scared. Flacco has outplayed Brady in recent playoff meetings and the Ravens pass rush has gotten to Brady. The Ravens didn’t sack Brady during the AFC Championship in 2012 but they had seven quarterback hits and forced two interceptions. Sure, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, but Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata still remain, players whose hits Brady know well.

The problem is, this Patriots team is much different than in years past. For starters, they finally have a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski. That’s a total game-changer in itself. He is a nightmare matchup and the Ravens linebackers have struggled in pass coverage. Will Hill will likely draw the assignment on Gronk and while Hill has shown he can cover big tight ends – he has a +6.7 coverage grade, according to ProFootbalFocus, which is ninth among safeties – Gronk is a different animal. He has over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns and always seems to get those extra yards after the catch.

This is also the best Patriots defense the Ravens will have faced. Their cornerbacks have been their weak point over the years, but this time it is arguably their strongest group with Darrelle Revis leading the helm with physical corner Brandon Browner. Reports are that Revis will line up on Steve Smith and Browner on Torrey Smith. Torrey Smith may be able to draw a penalty or two on the very physical Browner, but he typically struggles with physical corners.

Linebackers Jamie Collins (116 tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (89 tackles, 6 sacks) are having strong years and players like Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo have been solid. They are susceptible against the run (4.0 YPC, 104.3 YPG) but this is clearly the best Pats defensive the Ravens will have faced.

All the talk has been about how great Flacco is in the playoffs. All the talk has been about how the Ravens own Foxborough. All the talk has been that Flacco is a better playoff quarterback than Brady. Those things may be true, but this Pats team appears to be on a roll, a clear step above the rest of the AFC teams. Not to mention they’re probably not too happy with all the Ravens love. Then you factor in that all that Ravens love will undoubtedly jinx Flacco. I actually somewhat believe that last statement.

But really, Flacco is great and has been great in January and even if he has a poor game, his postseason legacy is cemented and true. But this Pats team has too much Gronk, too much Revis, and too much reason to be pissed off. They’re a step above this Ravens team. I hope I’m wrong. Patriots 24, Ravens 20.

Ravens360’s Bobby Clark’s prediction: Ravens 28, Patriots 24

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