By Gregory Hunt
The Baltimore Ravens travel to Gillette Stadium Saturday to face the New England Patriots in a postseason game for the fourth time in six seasons. Two of the previous postseason games were in the Conference Championship round while the other was in the Wild Card round, so this upcoming game will be the first time the rivals have met in the Divisional round. The Ravens have won two of the previous three playoff meetings.
After going 8-8 last year and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Ravens rebounded this season to go 10-6, good enough for third place in the AFC North and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs. Baltimore reached the Divisional round of the playoffs by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 Sunday at Heinz Field.
In their all-time series with the Patriots, the Ravens are 1-7 in the regular season but 2-1 in the postseason. The rivalry dates back to 1996, when the franchise was established in Baltimore after moving from Cleveland, where it had been known as the Cleveland Browns. The team was officially recognized as an expansion team as it was required to leave the Browns’ name, colors and heritage back in Cleveland, where it was adopted by a new Browns franchise established in 1999.
Baltimore’s lone regular season win against New England came on September 23, 2012, when the Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 at M&T Bank Stadium. New England’s lone playoff win against Baltimore came on January 22, 2012, when the Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 at Gillette Stadium. The last time the teams met, the Patriots came away with a 41-7 win at M&T Bank Stadium on December 22, 2013.
Ravens on Offense
Throughout most of his career, quarterback Joe Flacco has been known as a game manager — a quarterback who kept his mistakes to a minimum and wasn’t asked to take a lot of risks so that Baltimore’s elite defense could win games for him. However, things have changed this season under first-year offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who coached Flacco to career highs in touchdown passes (27) and passing yards (3,986).
Flacco’s mobility allows him to execute the bootleg passes that are a big part of Kubiak’s offensive. Also, the development of running back Justin Forsett, who rushed for 1,266 yards this season with a 5.4 yards-per-carry average, has allowed the play-action passing game to be much more effective for Baltimore. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who joined the Ravens this season after spending the first 13 years of his career with the Carolina Panthers, has given Flacco a deep receiving threat. Smith caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns.
Ravens On Defense
Even though linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed have entered retirement, the Ravens still have a highly physical defense thanks to the presence of linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who combined for 29 sacks this season. The Ravens were 8th in the NFL in total defense and they gave up only 18.9 points per game, good enough for 6th in the league. They were also second in sacks with 49 and tied for 9th in forced fumbles with 16. In last week’s Wild Card game against the Steelers, the Baltimore defense sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times and intercepted him twice.
The Patriots were a strong favorite to win the AFC going into this year’s playoffs, but this is a dangerous match-up for New England. The Ravens have a strong history of postseason success against New England, and the Patriots tend to struggle against teams with a strong pass rush. The key to this game will be the play of New England’s offensive line, which will need to give quarterback Tom Brady time to throw against a Baltimore defensive secondary that has occasionally struggled this season. Patriots guard Dan Connolly and tackle Nate Solder both dealt with knee injuries late in the season, but they both need to be ready to go on Saturday to give New England its best chance of advancing to the AFC Championship Game.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.