8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Patriots -3, Over/Under: 44.5
AFC powerhouses meet in a potential Playoff Preview as the reigning Super Bowl Champions, New England Patriots, take their undefeated act on the road to battle the Baltimore Ravens from M&T Bank in Baltimore, Maryland. After eight weeks of besting a who’s who of the league’s worst teams, the Patriots (8-0, 1st in AFC East) will finally receive a considerable boost in competition, starting with tonight’s matchup with the Ravens, a franchise that has dealt them some significant losses in the past. At this point, much has been made of New England’s unbeaten start, with the ageless Tom Brady (64.7%, 2,251 YDS, 6.7 NY/A, 13 TD, 4 INT, 60.0 QBR) continuing to be a modicum of efficiency in what should be the twilight of his illustrious career, while the Defense has been historically dominant, particularly in regards to turning over their opponent, forcing a staggering Twenty-Five Takeaways (1st Overall), which when coupled with the play of their Quarterback has led to a very healthy Plus-17 Turnover Differential (1st Overall). In the last three games alone, Bill Belichick’s charges have logged a ridiculous Thirteen Turnovers, including six in a 33-0 whitewash of the hapless New York Jets on Monday Night Football, followed by three more in a 27-13 victory over the mistake-prone Cleveland Browns, which coincidentally was the 300th of the Head Coach’s venerable career, joining the likes of Don Shula and George Halas. With all that said, those adjectives applied to those two opponents have been a common theme for nearly everyone they’ve been pitted against throughout this unbeaten stretch for the Pats, who have had the luxury of facing arguably the weakest schedule in the league thus far. In this case, the numbers don’t lie, folks, for this has been a club that has absolutely feasted upon the have-nots of the NFL in 2019, with their opponents’ Win Percentage of .265 ranking as lowest in the league. However, if you take away that 16-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the lone team on their schedule at this point above .500, and you’re looking at a combined record of 8-34 (.190), including the likes of the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, and the aforementioned Jets (twice), who have combined for a mere two victories this season. The next six weeks will go a long way towards revealing just great this particular incarnation of the Patriots is, for over that period of time they will be facing the likes of Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and Kansas City Chiefs, beginning with the Ravens, with all five of those teams participating in the Playoffs last season, and three of them currently sitting atop their respective division. Looking at the numbers, their next five opponents possess a cumulative record of 23-15, or in another words a Win Percentage of .605. This of course, brings us to Baltimore, who occupy a unique place in Patriots’ history, or Brady’s in particular. During the Regular Season, the three-time MVP and future Hall of Famer has gone 6-1 against them in Seven Starts, though he’s generally had to work for everything he’s received, posting a Completion Percentage of 59.4%, his lowest against any team in the league, while averaging 270.3 Passing Yards on 7.2 Net Yards per Attempt, with Nine Touchdowns in comparison to Four Interceptions. However, the Postseason is where this rivalry gets far more interesting, for Brady has gone just 2-2 against them in the Playoffs, with the Ravens owning two of his ten losses. In those four meetings, two of which occurred in the AFC Championship Game, he’s completed just 58.8% of his Attempts for an average of 270.0 Yards per Game on a very modest 5.73 Net Yards per Attempt, with Six Touchdowns opposed to Eight Interceptions, which is the most against any team that he’s faced in the Postseason. With rumors of his future beyond this campaign floating around last week, it’s a legitimate question as to just how much longer the 42-Year old will continue to play, let alone at the level that we’ve come to expect from him; with the Supporting Cast resembling a revolving door due to injuries (particularly at Receiver), he’s exhibited some decline in a number of areas, including Completion Percentage (64.7%), Touchdown Percentage (4.2%), Passer Rating (95.0), and QBR (60.0), which represent his lowest figures since 2013. In an attempt to provide him with some help in the Passing Game, Belichick acquired Mohamed Sanu (35 REC, 336 YDS, 9.6 Y/R, 1 TD) from the Atlanta Falcons last week for a 2020 2nd Round Pick after placing Josh Gordon (20 REC, 287 YDS, 14.4 Y/R, 1 TD) on Inured Reserve. The versatile Sanu, who has long been admired by Belichick, immediately saw playing time in New England’s victory over Cleveland, hauling in Two Receptions for Twenty-Three Yards on Five Targets.
Meanwhile, for all that talk of how they’ve played the role of persistent deterrent to the Patriots, it’s been quite a while since the Ravens (5-2, 1st in AFC North) have even defeated them, whether it’s been in the Regular Season or the Playoffs. That last Postseason defeat dealt to Brady and Belichick happened way back in 2013, while losing their following four meetings since then, with their most recent confrontation coming back in 2016. With that said, New England will be hard-pressed to recognize this new incarnation of Baltimore, particularly on Offense where they’ve evolved into one of the most unique units in the league today. Indeed, John Harbaugh, along with Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman, have crafted a run-heavy scheme that has made this team rather difficult to prepare for, with Sophomore Quarterback, Lamar Jackson (63.3%, 1,650 YDS, 6.72 NY/A, 11 TD, 5 INT, 70.9 QBR), making plays with both his arm and his legs. Simply put, if there is a more productive dual-threat at the position, we’d like you to name them, for this guy has tormented opposing Defenses with his legs, rushing for 576 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Eighty-Three Carries. While the volume attempts ranks highest among Quarterbacks, his 6.9 Yards per Carry sits atop the entire league in that regard, while his 82.3 Yards per Game on the ground ranks Ninth Overall. As a result, the Ravens been able to control the course of games, churning out 204.1 Rushing Yards per Game (1st Overall) on 5.5 Yards per Rush (1st Overall), while leading the league in Average Time (3:24), Plays (7.01), Yards (41.6), and Points (2.77) per Drive. Simply put, if there was any team out there capable of keeping Brady on the sideline watching the clock tick away, it’s these guys. Offseason acquisition, Mark Ingram (99 CAR, 470 YDS, 4.7 Y/C, 7 TD), has brought a consistent, veteran presence to the Backfield, with the two-time Pro-Bowler’s ability to gain tough yards between the Tackles complementing Jackson’s exploits quite nicely. When we last saw them, these two pounded away at the surging Seattle Seahawks in an impressive 30-16 victory at CenturyLink Field piling up 199 Rushing Yards on Thirty-Five Carries, with the 22-Year Old rushing for 116 Yards and a Touchdown on Fourteen Carries, punctuated by an 8-Yard scamper into the End Zone midway through the Third Quarter that swung the momentum towards the visiting side. With that said, the concern coming into the season in regards to their young Signal-Caller was his growth as a passer, which the faithful in Baltimore will be happy to hear has been overexaggerated; Jackson has shown solid improvement across the board, raising his Completion Percentage (63.3%), Touchdown Percentage (5.1), Net Yards per Attempt (6.72), Passer Rating (94.1), and QBR (70.9) through the first seven games. Granted, he could no doubt stand to receive some more help in the Passing Game, particularly the Receiving Corps which has accounted for a mere 47.8% of his Passing Yards, though the club has already made a move before the Trade Deadline, and that was to bolster a Secondary that had been picked on in recent weeks. For a franchise that has earned a longstanding reputation of excellent Defense, it was indeed a black eye that their Pass Defense has suffered so in 2019, ranking 26th Overall against the Pass (265.4) and 25th Overall in Net Yards per Attempt allowed (7.1). With Starting Cornerback, Jimmy Smith, missing all but one game with a Grade 2 MCL Sprain, Tavon Young on Injured Reserve with a Herniated Disc in his neck, and Backups, Anthony Averett (11 TKL, 2 PD) and Maurice Canady (21 TKL, 1 FF, 1 INT, 3 PD), dealing with minor injuries, the Ravens made deal for the mercurial Marcus Peters (15 TKL, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 2 TD, 5 PD), sending a Backup Linebacker (Kenny Young) and a 2020 5th Round Pick to the Los Angeles Rams for his services. An divisive figure, the 26-Year Old Cornerback is a two-time Pro-Bowler and a former All-Pro who has been traded twice in two years, carrying a reputation as a malcontent who is just as likely to get burned or blow an assignment as he is making a huge play. However, he’s made some HUGE plays in his brief career, Intercepting Twenty-Five Passes and defending a total of sixty-eight, which are by far and away the most in the league since he was drafted in 2015. Harbaugh & Co. will be pleased to see his addition paying immediate dividends for his new team, as Peters became the first player this season to intercept Seahawks’ Quarterback, Russell Wilson, returning it for Sixty-Seven Yards for a Touchdown shortly before Halftime of that aforementioned victory.