In the previous five meetings dating back to 2007, only one wasn't — the Ravens’ 33-14 victory at Gillette Stadium in a 2009 wild-card playoff game.
The others have all been three-point games, with the Patriots taking all of them, including the AFC Championship Game, 23-20, on Jan. 22.
The matchup between the two teams on Sunday Night Football should be no exception.
“I’m certainly excited, and I know all my teammates are as well,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “We’ve had so many great games against the Ravens over the last bunch of years. It’s a Sunday Night game. We are both coming off of losses. [There] will be a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. The Ravens are such a physically tough team and smart. We know it’s going to be that type of game. We have to bring our best, because we always seem to get the best from the Ravens.”
Patriots play-action passing
Expect the Patriots to try to establish the run early against the Ravens. New England had a lot of success running the ball in January with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15 carries, 4.5 average) but didn’t do enough of it. That shouldn’t be a problem this year Stevan Ridley is a much more explosive runner than Green-Ellis, and he should do even more damage with the guard trap runs the Patriots used so well in the playoff game. That will setup the play-action passing of Brady.
The Patriots adhere to the Bill Walsh belief that if you really want to sell play action, you pull a guard. They’ve been doing more of that this season, and the Ravens are the perfect team to perfect it against. Both Ravens middle linebackers, Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, had a tendency to bit on play-action. Expect the Patriots to use it to free up tight end Rob Gronkowski, and to take a few shots with receiver Brandon Lloyd deep. Brady and Lloyd have just missed two “shot” plays in the first two games.
Handling the tackles
The Ravens may have to think about doubling Wilfork more in this game. They can’t let unheralded left guard Ramon Harewood try to block Wilfork one-on-one. The Patriots doubled Ngata on 16 of 29 pass plays, and four of 17 against the run in January. That may have to continue because Dan Connolly has moved from center to right guard for the missing Brian Waters. Connolly did well against Ngata at center, but Ngata is a better rusher playing over a guard.
Ravens RT Kelechi Osemele vs. Patriots LDE Rob Ninkovich
Osemele, a second-round pick, is huge at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds and long arms. It would seem to be a mismatch against the undersized Ninkovich (6-2, 260). However, these are the matchups Ninkovich thrives in because he has exceptional quickness and has the veteran savvy to setup younger tackles. And with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco a pocket-passer, Ninkovich won’t have to worry about Flacco escaping the pocket so he can pin his ears back.
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