AFC Playoff: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Preview & Picks

Rob GronkowskiIt just wouldn’t be the AFC playoffs without the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots as for the fourth time in the last six years the two teams meet head-to-head (4:30pm ET, Saturday, January 10 on NBC).

No stranger to this situation, both the Ravens and the Patriots have been perennial playoff contenders for the better part of 15 years. Since 2000, the two teams have combined for five Super Bowl championships, seven conference championships and another 16 divisional titles. Additionally, both the Patriots and Ravens have been in the playoffs in at least 10 of the last 15 years and both have gone in six of the last seven since 2008.

Needless to say, these teams have an excellent pedigree and are truly at the top of their conference.

That was Then, this is Now

It was 2012, and the Ravens were on the precipice of doing something they had only done once before. The only team standing in their way was the Patriots, who just so happened to be coming off a 13-point victory over the Houston Texans in which Tom Brady threw for 344 yards. The Ravens meanwhile were coming off a miraculous double overtime win against the Denver Broncos in which Joe Flacco had thrown for 331 yards.

The two teams met at Gillette Field in New England for the second time that season, the first of which was won by the ravens by the slimmest of margins. Just a point separated the teams and just a point kept the Patriots from the victory. For New England, the same result wasn’t supposed to happen again and it didn’t.

The Patriots recorded more first downs and more total yards in three minutes less of possession time but in the end, the result was in fact the same if not worse. Behind Flacco, who tossed three touchdowns, two of which went to Anquan Boldin, and the Baltimore defense who picked off Brady twice, the Ravens defeated their rivals by an impressive 15 points.

Baltimore went on to win the Super Bowl, giving them a 2-0 record in the big game and in the process, preventing Brady and head coach Bill Bellichick from reaching their sixth championship match.

Since 2012 however, both of these teams have experienced a good deal of personnel changes. Baltimore, while retaining Flacco, lost both Boldin and defensive MVP Ray Lewis. Ray Rice, whose playing career is now in doubt, was also cut during the season due to off the field issues.

In exchange, the Ravens added veteran pro-bowler Steve Smith, whose 79 receptions, six touchdowns and 1,065 yards made him Flacco’s favorite offensive target this year. Baltimore also bolstered their defense by adding Elvis Dumervil in free agency (37 tackles, two forced fumbles in 2014) and by drafting standout Matt Elam (50 tackles, one forced fumble in 2014). Giving depth to the running game which was so important in 2012 was the combination of veteran Justin Forsett (255 ATT, 1,266 YDS, 8 TD) and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (68 ATT, 292 YDS, 4 TD).

For the Patriots, changes came namely at wide receiver as not a single player who caught a pass in the 2012 AFC Championship was on the roster for the 2014 season. Replacing the retired Deion Branch, the traded Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and the jailed Aaron Hernandez was a group of pass catchers that can probably be classified as Brady’s worst in his 15-year career. Leading the pack was Julian Edelman (92 REC, 972 YDS, 4 TD), a 7th round draft pick and Brandon LaFell (74 REC, 953 YDS, 7 TD). Fortunately for Brady, his best weapon and one of the best at his position, TE Rob Gronkowski (pictured above), carried the load. A member of the Patriots since 2010, Gronk had his best year since 2011 as he caught 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.

So come Saturday, while these teams may have a handful of different, key players, the most important guy on the field for both, is still the same.

Brady vs Flacco

As important as the pass catchers are, it is the guy throwing them the ball, the field general if you will, that often sets the pace and makes the biggest difference in a game. It is why the quarterbacks are often the ones to sweep up the awards and between Brady and Flacco, there are enough trophies to fill more than one case.

As an NFL QB for 15 years, Brady has been through it all. He was drafted #199 back in 2000, and was expected to be no more than a backup to then-starter Drew Bledsoe. But when Bledsoe went down and Brady had to fill in, doing so in a critical point of the season, the Michigan draftee never looked back.

This year, Brady was faced with questions, namely those asking if the 37-year-old was starting to slip from his prime and if the Patriots were slipping from their greatness. Brady never let the talk get to him though and proceeded to put in yet another, 30 TD and 4,000 yard season, doing so with a less than stellar supporting cast.

Through his career, Brady has been one of the best playoff quarterbacks in the history of the game. In 26 games, Brady has thrown 43 TD and has passed for over 6,200 yards. Those numbers are outstanding but of the two quarterbacks going at it on Saturday, Brady won’t be the one with the best postseason resume.

Flacco, who has also been questioned ever since signing a league-high contract after the 2012 Super Bowl, has put together a nearly flawless postseason resume. In 15 games, Flacco has passed for 21 TD and just eight interceptions. In addition, Flacco hasn’t tossed a pick in his last five playoff games compared to 13 touchdowns in that span.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Preview Betting Picks

The Patriots enter this one as seven-point home favorites. Despite Baltimore’s tendency to play well on the road in the postseason and Flacco’s hot streak, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to see the Patriots cover this deficit.

The team played its best football over the last few weeks en route to earning the first overall seed in the AFC. The team has a much-improved defense and a reliable running game for the first time in quite a few years. In fact, as a best priced +330 second favourites to win the Super Bowl (with 5Dimes), it would not be surprising to see New England get back to the ultimate stage.

  • Take the Patriots to cover the -7pts spread best odds of +100 with 5Dimes Sportsbook (Bovada & BetOnline go -110) as they show why this team is different than the ones that fell early the past two years.
  • Bet on the under 48 total points in the game with Bovada at odds of -110 (5Dimes & BetOnline are a similar under 47.5pts), as the scoring should be kept at bay.