Oops, looks like the Ravens peed in the pundit's punchbowl. They went and spoiled the much anticipated Brady-Manning clash of the Titans. Instead we get a rematch of last year's AFC Championship. That game was a soul-crushing loss for Baltimore as they saw first victory, then certain overtime, snatched away by a dropped pass in the endzone and a missed 32 yard FG attempt in the final seconds of the game. This is their opportunity for redemption.
It also follows the storyline of the playoffs for them. First they beat the Colts, the former Baltimore team that left under similar circumstances to how Baltimore eventually got the Ravens. And also the team that knocked the Ravens out of the Super Bowl a few years back. Then they beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Manning was the Colts QB in that same game, and had beaten the Ravens in all but one meeting over the past decade.
Now they get the chance to avenge last year's defeat in Foxborough. And just as they were last week in Denver, they are overwhelmingly favored to lose this game. The spread started at 10 points Sunday evening with an over / under of 51. By Monday morning it was 9.5. Now, Saturday evening, it is down to 7.5 as a lot of money came in taking Baltimore and the points.
I'm somewhat surprised by the size of the spread considering recent history between these clubs and the Ravens performance against Denver. This point spread is more than the combined point difference of their last 3 games against one another. The one before that was a Baltimore blowout win in the playoffs in January 2010, 33-14. The Ravens beat them early in the year, and that was before the offense came together under Jim Caldwell, and while the defense was still struggling to patch holes and find a way to stop the run.
Also, in each of their past three games, Joe Flacco has outperformed Tom Brady. And there is no reason to doubt that he can do it again. I seriously believe the Ravens will win this game. Their defense is playing inspired ball for Ray Lewis' "last ride" and Joe Flacco has developed into a postseason monster. Factoid - Peyton Manning threw as many interceptions to Corey Graham last week as Joe Flacco has thrown in his last 6 playoff games combined. Over the past two years Joe has 9 TDs and just 1 INT in the playoffs. He's also averaging almost 20 yards per completion.
Meanwhile, Brady and the Patriots are looking to get back to the Super Bowl for another shot at a ring. They are one of the winningest teams of the past decade and have been scoring out the wazoo. They definitely had Houston's number last week. They are also improved since the first meeting, adding Aqib Talib to their defensive secondary. He will likely be matching up against Torrey Smith, hoping to do what the Pats failed to do in week 3 by containing Smith.
They are missing their big tight end, Rob Gronkowski, who re-broke his arm against the Texans last week. Baltimore didn't have any notable injuries against the Broncos. Bernard Pierce, Ray Rice's alter-ego, saw little action due to a knee injury. Hopefully he will be back in play this week. He runs hard and gets good yardage after contact. Having them as a 1-2 punch helps keep both strong and ready to go.
(You'd NEVER guess I am a Ravens fan, now would you?)
Just one more factoid regarding Flacco, then I'll shut up and let you enjoy the game ...
In last week's game he threw as many 20+ yard touchdowns, (3), as had been allowed by the Broncos defense all season. Meanwhile, the Pats surrendered more 20+ yard plays than any other team in the NFL. Belichick almost has a better chance by giving away the long ball and letting the game be a shootout. If he tries to prevent the long ball it opens up the run more, along with short and intermediate passes for Boldin, Dickson, Pitta, Leach and Rice. This approach would allow the Ravens to control the ball longer and give their defense some needed rest.
(May both teams finish the game injury-free.)