Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 5:37 PM
The last time the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens met, a berth in the Super Bowl was at stake. Ultimately, all that separated the teams was a short missed field goal from Baltimore at the end of regulation. These two were evenly matched…and destiny ended up smiling on the NFC and the New York Giants anyway.
This year? Who knows?
When the Pats and Ravens square off in Sunday Night’s nationally televised game on NBC, we have a pair of teams who were considered serious championship threats when the season began…but two teams who both suffered losses last week in games they were in position to win.
*New England played one of its worst home games in years, losing 20-18 to Arizona as 13-point favorites. When Tom Brady was at his peak, the Patriots would have had that pointspread covered in the first quarter! And, Bill Belichick would be scolded in the media for running up the score well after the game was out of hand. Last week, the Pats struggled all day…and couldn’t even take the gift that was handed to them with a late Arizona fumble.
*Baltimore lost as a small underdog in Philadelphia. That’s not nearly as embarrassing. But, the way it happened caused many to still wonder if Joe Flacco has what it takes to execute late in big games. That’s always been the strike against him. Bullying bad teams in the first few months doesn’t mean anything if you can’t win in January. Baltimore/Philly had a playoff feel to it and the Ravens came up short.
We’ll run the boxscore stats from those games in a minute. First, let’s put this game through the gauntlet of our indicator data…
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS at BALTIMORE RAVENS (8:25 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: Baltimore by 2.5, total of 50
This line sat on the field goal for much of the week, but money started coming in strong on underdog New England on Friday. Brady gets respect as an underdog. Nobody can argue about that given his storied career in the NFL. Heck, if this game comes down to “knowing how to win,” then Brady deserves the nod over Flacco. That original line of three suggested oddsmakers had the teams rated dead even. Home field advantages is worth three points in the NFL. The rest of the “market” has chimed in to say that the Patriots may be a shade better on a neutral field. The public doesn’t typically bet until game day. So, let’s see if there are any Sunday line moves before kickoff.
New England: 1-1 (at Tennessee and vs. Arizona)
Baltimore: 1-1 (vs. Cincinnati and at Philadelphia)
It’s amazing that New England took a split against that easy schedule. Maybe last week was a red flag that there are deeper problems than anyone imagined with the Pats. Or, maybe it was just one of those days where nothing went right. Nobody will remember it if New England is 8-2 at the 10-game mark of the season. Should it be the first sign of a Patriots apocalypse ending the Bellichick era…nobody will forget it. Baltimore was supposed to split its first two games based on the Vegas spreads. They’re still positioned to be a force in the NFC based on what’s ahead. It is interesting that tonight’s loser will fall to 1-2. Get ready for a bunch of stories from the TV Networks about how hard it is to win championships when you start 1-2!
New England: +3
The Patriots are always great in the risk-reward ratio. It’s not a surprise that they’d be this far up after two games vs. non-contenders. Baltimore may have trouble posting a great number this season since they’re being so aggressive about passing downfield. But, this is a team also well-suited generally to winning this stat because of their defense and smart coaching. These teams are annual contenders because they understand the importance of fundamentals.
New England: 388.5 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play
Baltimore: 377.5 yards-per-game on 6.1 yards-per-play
Big yardage by early standards. New England has used more of a ball control approach, which is why they have more yardage on fewer plays. Baltimore is emphasizing the downfield game with Flacco’s strong arm. They’re going to be LETHAL this year if they can average near 6.0 yards-per-play while also winning the turnover battle. There’s certainly potential for a Sunday Night firework’s show based on those numbers.
New England: 264.5 yards-per-game on 4.3 yards-per-play
Baltimore: 404.0 yards-per-game on 5.6 yards-per-play
The Patriots just played two lousy offenses. They’re not facing Jake Locker or Kevin Kolb tonight! Maybe the team has made some important adjustments from last year’s disappointing effort. For now, you have to assume those are misleading numbers. Baltimore’s on the other end of the spectrum, having played two teams who know how to move the ball and who had to play from behind in the second half. They’re better than those averages…though those averages do suggest that New England can rally from behind if needed. Brady garners an edge over Michael Vick and Andy Dalton.
LAST WEEK’S BOXES
ARIZONA 20, NEW ENGLAND 18
Total Yardage: Arizona 245, New England 387
Rushing Yards: Arizona 105, New England 90
Passing Stats: Arizona 15-27-0-140, New England 28-46-1-297
Turnovers: Arizona 2, New England 1
Third Downs: Arizona 28%, New England 33%
Vegas Line: New England by 13, total of 46
It’s kind of a mystery how New England could turn a big yardage advantage and a possible turnover differential into a loss. Some of that is due to the “air” that comes into passing for 300 yards when you’re not finding the end zone at the end of drives. And, of course, they couldn’t find the goalposts on their last second field goal attempt either. It’s worth noting that they did win stats here…so the loss wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed…even if it was embarrassing. They were still +142 yards and plus turnovers.
PHILADELPHIA 24, BALTIMORE 23
Total Yardage: Baltimore 325, Philadelphia 486
Rushing Yards: Baltimore 111, Philadelphia 129
Passing Stats: Baltimore 22-42-1-214, Philadelphia 23-32-2-357
Turnovers: Baltimore 2, Philadelphia 4
Third Downs: Baltimore 28%, Philadelphia 46%
Vegas Line: Philadelphia by 3, total of 47
You can see why there are concerns about Flacco here. In a big game, he threw 20 incomplete passes, posting only 214 passing yards on 42 attempts. The Ravens couldn’t convert third downs, and turned the ball over twice in addition to their other inefficiencies. It goes down as a near-miss on the scoreboard. But, that’s because Philadelphia is still a turnover machine! The Eagles basically won a stat rout, which means the Ravens may not be quite as good as many experts were thinking. The final score hid that from many.
Not much has changed since last year’s championship battle. It’s going to come down to what Brady does vs. the Baltimore defense compared to what Flacco does vs. the New England defense. Can Brady keep moving the chains and putting points on the board? Can Flacco hit some big strikes that help put the game out of reach? Is this where the two ships pass in the night? Last week’s results show that New England may be trending in the wrong direction as their legends age. Baltimore was supposed to be the team best suited to take advantage. Flacco’s passing line from last week raises doubts about that.
JIM HURLEY has had his eye on this game since the schedules were first announced. Everyone knew this would be HUGE! That’s why it’s on “Football Night in America” on NBC. We can’t tell you here who NETWORK will be releasing (or if they’re passing the game). Be sure to check the home page of this website for the latest details on Sunday’s top offerings. As we go to press, New England-Baltimore is likely to be part of a marquee matchup parlay at the very least. If our sources find something special…there’s a chance this one’s a MONSTER!
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Back with you Monday with a stat preview Green Bay-Seattle. Be sure you’re with us in the NOTEBOOK seven days a week so you know what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports!