The Ravens enter Sunday Night Football with an AFC North-leading 5-2 record. The undefeated Patriots will walk into the confines of M&T Bank Stadium as the NFL’s leader in points per game and points allowed per game, a testament to how well the team has played during the season.
It has been seven years since the Baltimore Ravens hosted a Sunday Night Football game. It was Week 3 of 2012. The Patriots were coming to town just eight months after pulling out a victory over the same Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens won that game thanks to a Justin Tucker field goal in the final seconds.
While I could talk for days about the tragedy that is keeping the Ravens from a home Sunday night game for over seven years, that no longer matters.
The Patriots have won eight of nine regular-season meetings with the Ravens, only falling shy in the 2012 clash. During their last meeting in Baltimore, New England clobbered the Ravens, 41-7.
The Patriots beat the Ravens in their last meeting, a 2016 battle on Monday Night Football in Foxborough that the Patriots won 30-23.
Moving into Sunday night’s game, the duel could be approached from any number of directions. Some statistics support the Patriots, and other statistics support the Ravens. Here is a run-down of some of the most pressing items.
No. 1 Offense vs. No. 1 Defense:
The Patriots and Ravens have been equally dominant on opposite sides of the ball. For the Ravens’ offense, they lead in the NFL in time of possession per drive, plays per drive, yards per drive, and points per drive. On the contrary, the Patriots’ defense leads in the NFL in time of possession per drive allowed, plays per drive allowed, yards per drive allowed, and points per drive allowed. If that sounds ridiculous, it is. The Ravens are also first in percentage of drives that end in points, a feat equaled by the Patriots’ defense. In terms of strength versus strength, this will be the best showdown in the NFL in the season.
The Ravens have the best rushing offense in the NFL with both Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram on pace for more than 1,000 yards. Statistically speaking, the Patriots have one of the NFL’s worst rushing games as they are 31st in yards per rush, buoyed by Sony Michel’s comical 3.3 yards per carry on nearly 60% of all of New England’s carries.
In terms of rush defense, both teams can make claims to being top-five rushing defenses. While runs by Nick Chubb (against Baltimore) and Steven Sims (against New England) skew yards per carry allowed, neither defense has been consistently tested on the ground. New England’s rush defense has been more porous than Baltimore’s on the season, but the units are practically equal.
The Turnover Battle:
Both teams average one giveaway per game. However, the stark contrast comes with the glaring 25 in New England’s takeaway column. The Patriots are on pace to force 50 turnovers, one of the highest tallies in the history of the NFL. 25 takeaways in a season generally puts a team in the top half of the league for season takeaways. The Patriots hit that mark in October. On the contrary, the Ravens are in the bottom half of the league in terms of taking the ball away, but they have recorded a takeaway in their last four games, including a pair that resulted in touchdowns against Seattle in Week 7. Turnovers will play a massive role in the game Sunday night as the Ravens cannot afford to give the Patriots’ offense advantageous positions, and the Patriots cannot afford to let pick-six machine Marcus Peters touch the football.
Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson are opposites under the center. Brady is a fine-tuned, precision-passing god who has been dissecting defenses since the Jurassic age. His contemporary Jackson has a decidedly riskier approach to the game of football: running with the ball. For what it’s worth, Jackson has surpassed Brady’s career-high in single-game rushing yards (31) in 14 of his 15 starts (including playoffs). Both quarterbacks possess the notoriously-difficult-to-discern “it” factor, but the signal-callers utilize their talents in dramatically different manners. If both quarterbacks stick to their strengths, both should find success on Sunday.
Running the Ball:
The Ravens are just better in this aspect. Mark Ingram has had a phenomenal season with the Ravens despite Lamar Jackson taking a larger chunk of his carries in recent weeks. For the Patriots, they have a solid stable of backs including Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White, but they have had minimal consequences on running plays. The Ravens have a strong enough rushing attack to shorten the game and walk out with a win. The collection of New England backs might find more success as….
The Ravens have no hope of defending James White. Despite the revolving door of wide receivers (besides Julian Edelman), the Patriots always have an option in No. 28. White will likely play a huge role in the passing game as the Ravens will be back to having four good cornerbacks with Jimmy Smith’s return. Edelman will be his usual self, but James White will unquestionably be the knife that repeatedly stabs the Ravens’ defense if the Patriots choose that alley.
In Baltimore, the sturdiness of the pass-catching corps stems from the health of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. If Brown is healthy, the Ravens could pose a threat to most of the league, but the Patriots are likely immune to the effects of Brown due to the magical powers of Bill Belichick. Mark Andrews is situated to be the No. 1 target for Lamar Jackson on Sunday as he will serve the role of a safety valve and center-of-the-field target.
In the Trenches:
Likely the only weakness for the Patriots, the offensive line is a far cry from the quality units that have protected Brady for the majority of two decades. If Shaq Mason plays, the line will likely hold up to the weak Ravens pass rush, but if Mason is unable to go, the Ravens could cause a slight inconvenience to Brady. The Ravens have two of the NFL’s best offensive linemen in Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda, but the line is far from perfect. Better in run blocking than pass blocking, the Ravens’ O-line will play a pivotal role in providing running lanes for Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson as well as giving Jackson a clean pocket to toss interceptions. Neither defensive line has been fantastic in 2019, but they could take advantage of the opposing offensive line.
The Ravens have a plethora of quality pieces headlined by Marlon Humphrey, Earl Thomas, and the recently-acquired Marcus Peters. In contrast, the Patriots might have the best secondary in NFL history. Bolstered by the NFL’s best cornerback in Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots have the NFL’s interception leader in Devin McCourty and five of the most versatile defensive backs in Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon. The Patriots have a clear advantage at the back end, but the Ravens will likely have the services of Jimmy Smith after his prolonged absence.
Through my thinly-veiled sarcasm, I conclude that Patriots-Ravens will be one of the best games of the season. The Patriots appear to be impenetrable, but the Ravens have two secret weapons that could turn the tides of the showdown. The ballsiness of John Harbaugh has been much maligned at points of the season (most notably against the Chiefs), but he has proven in the past that he does not back down from Bill Belichick. Harbaugh might be smart enough (or stupid enough; it depends on your perspective) to commit to the run game, a commitment that no team has been willing to make against the Patriots. The second secret weapon is about as secretive as a neon sign. Lamar Jackson will make or break the Ravens on Sunday night. The former Heisman Trophy winner has the world at his fingertips (or rather, the spikes of his cleats), and he will either control the game or submit to the magical pixie dust power of Brady and Belichick.
Oh, I almost forgot. James White is going to slaughter the Ravens on live television. Forget everything that I have said. White will be the undoing of the Ravens, five yards at a time.
Spread: Ravens (+3.5)
Score: Patriots 23, Ravens 20
Over/Under: Under (44.5)