The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Ravens failed to score a game winning touchdown in the final minutes after Lee Evans dropped a pass in the end zone. Seconds later, Billy Cundiff missed a kick that would have sent the game into overtime. What should we expect to see out of this year’s game?
Baltimore Is Looking To Prove That Their Regular Season Victory Was No Fluke
The Ravens were able to squeak out a victory in the final seconds against the Patriots in Baltimore during the early part of the regular season. The game ended in controversy as the game winning field goal kicked by Justin Tucker looked as though it may not have been good. However, officials were not able to review the play because of NFL rules stating that only kicks that go through the uprights can be reviewed as opposed to kicks that go over an upright.
While that kick may have been the pivotal play in the game, there were many other things that went the way of the Ravens as well. Their defense was able to get to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with ease. Things got so bad that Rob Gronkowski had to stay on the line to block instead of going out for passes. That completely changed the way that the Patriots were able to attack the Ravens on offense.
Another note from that game is that it occurred while the replacement officials were in charge. With the regular refs away, there was a lot of fighting and yelling. Flags were thrown throughout the game that should not have been thrown and both coaches were constantly being reprimanded on the sidelines. Baltimore fans could be heard chanting some choice words on national television at one point.
How Does That Translate To The Game This Weekend
First, having the regular referees should help both teams. There will be a better flow to the game and it should be a little less chippy. Although the two teams will be playing with more intensity, it should have a more professional feel to it overall.
Secondly, the Ravens are a different team than they were during the regular season. Joe Flacco has come out of his shell and is throwing the ball with authority. If the Ravens have a sustained passing attack, they should be the favorite to win this game. It should be noted that he played well against the Patriots last year in the AFC title game.
New England is also a different team at this point in the season. Look for Shane Vereen to get more playing time after his three touchdown performance last week. The Patriots offensive game plan should look to exploit the injuries up the middle to Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis.
With Rob Gronkowski being out for the rest of the playoffs, he will not be any type of a factor this week. It will be up to Aaron Hernandez to pick up the slack at the tight end position. Other personnel changes of note for the Patriots include Aqib Talib playing at cornerback and Devin McCourty playing at safety.
Who Will Win?
This is going to be a great game between two teams who match up well against each other. While most people are going to choose the Patriots, it would not be a shock to see Baltimore win this game and move on to the Super Bowl. However, the final prediction has the Ravens winning this game 21-17. Tom Brady will be hurried all day and he is usually less effective when he is not given a lot of time to throw in the pocket.
Written by Don Phan. Don currently writes sports content for blogs part-time and is with Fanatics Inc. full-time as a marketing associate. Fanatics is a leading retailer of NFL merchandise and is a premier source for officially licensed Patriots and Ravens merchandise.