The New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens reignite their intense rivalry on Monday Night Football when the AFC North outfit travel to Gillette Stadium.
There is no shortage of bad blood between the two sides as many Patriots supporters believe it was the Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh that kick-started the ‘deflategate’ scandal at the end of the 2014 season, which resulted in the suspension of quarterback Tom Brady at the start of the current term.
That’s not to mention the number of playoff and regular-campaign battles that have occurred between the two teams, with their last encounter coming in the divisional round of the post-season two years when Brady orchestrated rallies to bring New England back from two 14-point deficits.
Both sides are in excellent form so the contest will be exciting to say the least and each have huge playoff ramifications at stake, with the Patriots in touching distance of a first-round bye. Meanwhile, the Ravens are locked in a fierce battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers for control of the AFC North.
Bill Belichick’s men are a dominant force at home, although for the first time since the 2012 season they’ve lost two matches at Gillette Stadium, being defeated by the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. However, the latter came with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, while Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo were suspended and injured respectively.
The Patriots have not lost three matches at home since the 2008 campaign, again when Brady was unavailable due to injury when Matt Cassel was the club’s starter. Given their strong form this season backing New England at -280 with Bovada sportsbook makes sense as they aim to improve their record at the top of the AFC to 11-2.
However, Baltimore are one of the few teams that will enter Foxborough without fear. They crushed the Patriots in the 2009 wildcard match, inflicting the first home playoff defeat on Belichick and Brady as a tandem. They returned to play a close match in the 2011 AFC Championship, only for kicker Billy Cundiff to miss a late field goal to cost them a place in the Super Bowl. However, the Ravens avenged their defeat in the 2012 Championship game before securing the Vince Lombard Trophy in New Orleans.
Harbaugh’s men are in excellent form, reeling off four-straight wins and coming off the back of their best display of the season last week. Therefore they’re an intriguing price at +230 , and even better bet to cover the +7 spread.
Baltimore got off to a strong start to the campaign, albeit against inferior opposition, racking up wins over the Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, when tougher competition emerged they struggled to put points on the board, losing four-straight matches.
This run included back-to-back defeats at MetLife Stadium to both New York teams and highlighted the club’s vulnerabilities on the road. Harbaugh had plenty of issues to address in the bye week, but since then they’ve answered their critics by winning four out of their five contests to take a lead in the AFC North, capitalising on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s injury problems.
Joe Flacco’s form has been inconsistent this term following his return from a torn ACL. The 31-year-old threw only five touchdown passes in the opening seven matches of the season, but has begun to find his feet over the past few weeks, including a four-score performance in his side’s hammering of the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have asked a lot of their quarterback this term and he will need to have a strong outing in New England for his team to triumph.
Defensively Harbaugh will head into the clash with plenty of confidence given that his side are statistically ranked first overall in the NFL. They’ve been dominant against the run, allowing just 73.8 yards a game, while they’ve amassed 14 interceptions of opposing quarterbacks. That sort of form could well put the Ravens in the mix for the Super Bowl due to the old saying that ‘defense wins championships’. However, Baltimore will need to be at the peak of their powers to stop Brady and the potent Patriots offense on Monday night.
Belichick’s side saw their bid for the number one seed in the AFC conference boosted by the Oakland Raiders’ defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday. Should results go in their favour later today then the Patriots will be a in a position at least to lock up their place in the post-season with a win over the Ravens. However, they will have to raise the level of their own game to do so as they’ve been far from perfect despite their impressive 10-2 record.
It has been an unusual season for New England as they were forced to begin the campaign without Brady, but ultimately went 3-1 in his absence with a combination of Garoppolo and Brissett at quarterback. Brady has been outstanding since his return to the fold, throwing 19 touchdowns and just one interception in his eight matches. Belichick will be looking at the 39-year-old to lead his side towards another important victory in their quest to attain home-field advantage in January.
Although New England have been dominant, their potent offense has taken a hit due to the season-ending injury suffered by All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. The 27-year-old has endured an injury-plagued career and surgery on a back problem has left Brady without his best offensive weapon, while wideout Danny Amendola will also miss the rest of the regular campaign. It will be up to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, rookie Malcolm Mitchell and slightly-hobbled tight end Martellus Bennett to pick up the slack in their absence to lead the club towards the Super Bowl.
Defensively the Patriots on paper have a solid unit, although they have benefited from playing putrid offenses such as the Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams. The Seattle Seahawks exposed their deficiencies and how they hold up for the rest of the season against quality opponents will dictate whether the club will clinch their fifth Vince Lombardi trophy in 16 years.
Who Has The Edge?
The contests between these sides are always extremely close, while the intense rivalry between the teams will only add further fuel to the fire. The Ravens have won four out of their last five matches, although all of those victories have come at home, sustaining their one loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.
New England are a similar calibre of unit to the NFC East outfit and will ask a lot of questions of the Ravens’ defense that have not been probed in their recent run of good form. As a result, Brady and company should be able to secure the win that will take them within touching distance of the number one seed.
New England to beat Baltimore Ravens
Monday 12th December, 20:30 ET (Tuesday 13th December, 1:30 GMT)
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