Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount (29) runs past Baltimore Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw (91) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Here we go.
This has been one of the longest weeks of my life, but it is nearly Saturday, which means the best weekend in professional sports is set to commence. Yeah, March Madness is great, but it pales in comparison to the NFL divisional round. Eight great teams battling for the right to advance to their respective conference championship games, over the course of 24 hours. It doesn’t get much better than that.
So now, without anymore delay, let’s move on to the picks:
Patriots 31 Ravens 17
I have poured through the game tape, devoured statistics, and discussed this game with more than a few knowledge Pats fans and analysts, and everything points to a Patriots blowout. Every single logical cell in my brain says the Pats can’t win by anything less than three touchdowns, and the tape backs it up. But I can’t bring myself to pick New England to win by 30 points in a playoff game against the Ravens just yet. I hope it happens, but I imagine the football gods would smite me if I went ahead and made that prediction. So I toned it down a bit, and went with the Patriots by 14.
If you care even a little bit about football, and know how to use a computer, I think you all know what the media has been saying throughout the week. The Ravens have the Pats number in the playoffs, they aren’t scared of coming into Gillette, that defense will abuse Tom Brady, and in one of the more ridiculous stories of the week, Joe Flacco is evidently a much better postseason quarterback than Brady himself.
However if you actually know football, and have looked at some game footage, you know the Patriots are the much better team in this matchup.
To me, this game comes down to two things: New England’s offensive line holding up against the Ravens’ four-man pass rush, and Vince Wilfork and the front seven shutting down Justin Forsett and Baltimore’s running game. If they can do those two things, they will come out victorious. The Patriots have a lot of mismatches against the Ravens’ beat up secondary, and if Brady gets time, he will shred them.
On the other side of the ball, I am confident Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis (and Kyle Arrington) will take care of Joe Flacco‘s three main weapons in the Smiths, and Owen Daniels, which leaves the big guys to stop the ground attack. Picking up Alan Branch, and getting Sealver Siliga back will be huge for the game, as I expect the Pats to load up with the big boys in the middle to stop Baltimore from establishing a ground attack.
Once they accomplish that, Flacco will be forced to drop back and try to navigate through this secondary, and if you ask the likes of Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Phillip Rivers, and Matthew Stafford, that isn’t an easy thing to do.
Look for Jamie Collins and Don’t Hightower to make a few big plays throughout the game, and that revamped Patriots defense is the reason the Patriots advance to the next round. Turnovers will be key, and as usual, the Pats have the advantage.
Keep in mind the Patriots beat the Ravens by 34 in Baltimore last year without the following players: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Vince Wilfork, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon LaFell, and Rob Gronkowski.
(Continue on for my picks on the other three matchups)