Every time the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens meet up, you are guaranteed to be in for a show. They don’t like each other, they both have a lot of talent, and it seems like a lot is at stake each time they face off. This will be no different this Sunday, making this contest one of the must watch games of 2013.
Here are a few important players to keep an eye on, as these two squads do battle.
1. Tom Brady
Throughout his illustrious career, Tom Brady has had success against just about every team in the NFL. However the Ravens always seem to give him trouble, which makes watching his play in this game much more important than other regular season contests. Brady’s career passer rating against Baltimore is a lowly 72.1, and he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns when he plays them. Brady will have to perform well if the Patriots hope to clinch the AFC East, in part because the Pats will be on the road, but largely because they simply lack the offensive and defensive talent of previous New England teams. The Pats defense has been decimated by injuries, and I don’t think they will be able to bail out Brady, like they did back in the 2011 AFC Championship Game.
2. Terrell Suggs
Brady struggling against Baltimore doesn’t mean that it is all on him, in fact, I could make a case that if it weren’t for the lack of protection given to him by his offensive line, he would have decent statistics versus the Ravens. But in order for the Pats offense to be as productive as they want to be, they must protect Brady, and that starts with neutralizing Terrell Suggs. Suggs is getting up there in age (31 years old), but he can still bring the heat. He has nine sacks in 2013, however his impact goes far beyond a simple sack number. He frequently gets pressure in on the quarterback, forcing bad throws, and sometimes creating the all important turnover. He also gets his pass rushing partner, Elvis Dumervil a lot of one on one opportunities, which is a win for the Baltimore defense. Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon better come to play tomorrow, or else the Patriots offense will struggle.
3. Aqib Talib/Alfonzo Dennard
Torrey Smith is the most explosive weapon the Ravens have, making it vital for the Patriots secondary to slow him down. I would expect New England to put either Alfonzo Dennard, or Aqib Talib on Smith, or perhaps a rotation of the two. Dennard’s speed is better than Talib’s, which is helpful to defending fast receivers like Smith. However Talib’s physicality has the potential to disrupt just about any wideout in the NFL, even the faster number 82. Joe Flacco loves to throw the ball deep, because he has a lot of success doing it, but if you are able to take away his top weapon, then he tends to struggle.
4. Justin Tucker/Stephen Gostkwoski
An underrated aspect of this game, will be the matchup of the two kickers. Tucker and Gostkowski are ranked first and second in field goals made this year, while only missing a combined five attempts. Both have proven to be extremely clutch as the season has worn on, including Tucker hitting a 61 yard game winner last week, and Gostkowski nailing two late 53 yarders three weeks ago in Houston. The weather doesn’t look like it will be kicker friendly weather, as rain and wind is expected, but I still anticipate a kicking clinic tomorrow in Baltimore.