Patriots Visit Baltimore Ravens In AFC Title Rematch

By: Michael Robinson | Thursday, September 20, 2012

The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are arguably the two best teams in the AFC, but one of them will be under .500 after their huge clash on Sunday Night Football.

The Don Best NFL odds screen has Baltimore as 3-point favorites with a total ranging from 48½-49½. The Ravens fans will be loud and proud at M&T Bank Stadium beginning on NBC at 8:20 p.m. (ET).

The updated AFC future odds have moved Houston to the front of the pack (+175), with New England (+300) second and Baltimore and Pittsburgh tied-for-third (+700). It’s obviously very early in the season, but either the Pats or Ravens will be in a hole and it could cost them home field in the playoffs (assuming both make it).

Note the Don Best Linemakers Poll has New England as the highest ranked AFC team (only trailing Green Bay and San Francisco), followed directly by Houston and Baltimore.

Baltimore (1-1 straight up, 2-0 against the spread) has had this game circled on its calendar. Last year’s AFC title game in New England (23-20 loss) appeared won before a strip of receiver Lee Evans in the end zone. Billy Cundiff then missed an easy field goal to send it into OT. He was cut in August.

The Ravens appeared to have turned the page with an opening 44-13 home win over Cincinnati. However, a 24-23 loss at Philadelphia last week has opened up some fresh wounds, especially after giving up the game-winning touchdown with under two minutes left. The fact they covered as 3-point ‘dogs was little consolation to coach John Harbaugh.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (21-of-29 for 299 passing yards, 128.4 rating) looked great in the opener in the new no-huddle offense, but the team stayed away from it in Philly with crowd noise a big factor. Flacco’s numbers (22-of-42 for 232 yards, 66.8 rating) reflected a quarterback who struggled, and he also had an interception and a fumble.

Look for Harbaugh to go back to the no-huddle this week. The young Patriots defense has looked good through two games (264.5 YPG, ranked second) against questionable competition, but the secondary still has major question marks after being one of the NFL’s worst last year.

Baltimore’s Ray Rice is averaging a whopping 6.4 yards per carry this year, but has just 26 total attempts. He should have at least 20 totes this week in such an important game.

New England (1-1 SU and ATS) won its road game in easy fashion (34-13) over Tennessee before being shocked 20-18 as 13-point favorites at home versus Arizona. Both games went ‘under’ the total and it’s now 4-0 in New England’s last four games (starting with the AFC title game) after the ‘over’ was 7-0 in the previous seven.

New England out-gained Arizona 387-245 in total yards, but couldn’t get into the end zone until a Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski pass with 2:06 remaining (2-point conversion fail). The team also shot itself in the foot with a blocked punt in the third quarter that led to a Cardinals touchdown.

The Patriots offense was likely out of sync due to tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) getting hurt in the first quarter and not returning. He will be out several weeks and is a huge loss with his ability to create defensive mismatches.

New England has found a good rushing weapon with second-year back Stevan Ridley (196 total yards, 5.0 carry). Baltimore is ranked 20th against the run at 129 YPG, but 11th at 3.7 per carry, and will key on Ridley.

The Ravens defense misses pass rusher Terrell Suggs, but should be able to get pressure against Brady and his suspect offensive line. The quarterback is still excellent at age 35, but doesn’t play as well under duress as he used to (two Super Bowl losses to the Giants a prime example).

Baltimore’s first home game against Cincy did go ‘over’ the 42½-point total. The ‘under’ is still 4-1 in its last five at home, not allowing more than 14 points in any.

The Ravens are hosting New England for the first time since 2007, the last four coming in New England (two in the playoffs). The Ravens are 2-0-1 ATS in the last three.

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