As the games grow ever so closer (just a couple hours away) I figured it was necessary to get some kind of point across on where I stand as much as I could. See, as a fan I want to believe that the Ravens will come away from Gillette Stadium with a win. But the realist in me isn’t quite so sure. Then again, I really didn’t think much of Baltimore’s chance of winning in Pittsburgh and look what happened. And it’s easy to hate the refs for the blunder of a call, but the Cowboys still won that game whether that was a penalty or not. So let’s give some credit where it’s due. So maybe you saw the Bengals loss coming, but you also might just me lying because that team was wildly unpredictable all year long. And while I do believe that the division winner should get into the playoffs no matter how terrible there record is, they should never get a home game. With all that said, the Panthers have a solid running game and an even better defense. Watch out.
Baltimore at New England. It’d be so easy to just write off the Patriots and act as if Tom Brady had this one in the bag before last week’s games were even played, but the Ravens are just so up and down that anything is possible. It’s going to take a running game to beat Baltimore today, though. Do they have what it takes to make that happen? Well, they certainly have the surprise aspect of things covered. No one really knows who they may throw out there as a feature back in running situations. But the big question will be how the Ravens defend Rob Gronkowski. The guy had arguably his most impressive season of his career (because he was the focal point of the passing game and still put up monster numbers) and has the kind of size that might be too much for a smallish couple safeties or too quick for the rowdy group of linebackers.
But if containing Gronkowski is possible, then sitting on guys like Brandon LaFell or Julian Edelman might be a bit easier. Edelman is the kind of guy that can hurt you if able to wiggle free on a short crossing route, he’s not the guy who’s going to run by you on the outside (which is something the Ravens are ill-equipped for). And how about that Patriot defense? It’s what almost nobody is talking about prior to this game. But it make the biggest difference by the end. Who will step up for the Ravens against Revis Island and Big Bad Brandon Browner (say that ten times over!)?
Torrey Smith has had a late-season resurgence and found himself in the endzone more often than not while Steve Smith has either been really good or almost shut out. Owen Daniels has also made a big impact of late while getting over some early season injuries that really hurt his production. But it’s really been the unsung/unknown heroes in the last 6 or 7 weeks for Baltimore. Guys like Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gilmore among others. Guys that were at the bottom of depth charts at the beginning of the year have been able to provide big games here and there while still playing well even when their big challengers have come back healthy and playing well.
Everyone talks about how great Tom Brady is and has been his whole career. You won’t get any argument out of me on that one. But I would argue that the more important quarterback in this matchup is Joe Flacco. While Brady has slowed down a bit from his consistent big game days of a few seasons ago, the ability to take over games hasn’t been as much of a go-to for the Pats the last couple years. Joe Flacco, on the other hand, is hit or miss. The guy either steps up big or falls flat on his face. People only tend to remember the bad games. And for guys like Manning, Brees, Brady, and that’s probably it (though everyone has had their own struggles this year, too), it’s not usually the first thing you think of.
Well what if I told you Flacco’s numbers were a decent 29 TDs and 12 INTs? How about if you knew that in the 11 games the Ravens have won so far (including the playoffs) that he has 22 TDs and 4 INTs? That’s star-level quality. And I’m not getting into the “elite” talk either. But if I were, Flacco is an elite QB in the playoffs and an above average one in the regular season. Anyways, in 6 losses his numbers were 7 TDs and 8 INTs. So now it’s easier to see how important Joe is at the end of the day.
If Flacco plays well, Justin Forsett can stay involved, and the tandem of Suggs and Dumervil is getting pressure on Brady then I’ve got the Ravens, but if Brady can get a couple big plays and the running game can get going it will go the other way. Ravens, Patriots 17
Carolina at Seattle. Oddly, this may be the matchup of the two toughest defenses in the NFL right now (and in the last several week of the season). The Panthers need offense. Will it come from a ground game that’s been good for 5 weeks in a row? Or will Kelvin Benjamin not drop the ball a couple times in the endzone? Well, one thing is for certain. Cam Newton needs to be able to blend some runs and accurate throws into the game plan to get a few scores. The Carolina defense just needs to play tough and consistent in this one.
Given a breakout performance (for the season anyways) from Russell Wilson, Seattle may just run away with this game. The Seattle crowd is enough to alter the game but they are going to need someone to run the ball with consistency. Hopefully for their sake, Marshawn Lynch is that guy. Also, watch for Paul Richardson in this one. He’s a crafty dude with sneaky speed. Seahawks 17, Panthers 7
Dallas at Green Bay. Sunday’s games both appear to be high-scoring affairs, but you know how that always ends up. And I’m not completely convinced that the defenses on any of these teams are really that weak. And in this game it will be the difference. Eddie Lacy hasn’t been at his towards the end of this year, but the Pack need him to control this game depending on how limited Aaron Rodgers is. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have that look as a “team of destiny” (and you know I believe it as a Ravens fan). That, and both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant have been great together as of late. Maybe with a little DeMarco Murray sprinkled in, it will be big for the ‘Boys cornerbacks to step up against Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Cowboys 28, Packers 24
Indianapolis at Denver. This game just keeps happening. I feel like it’s ever so close to becoming advantage-Andrew Luck, but Peyton is just so hard to crack. Luck has had a tough defense to play behind and some great performances by a deep receiving corps. One guy that hasn’t been playing well for the last month has been TY Hilton. He’s the game-changer in this one. If Hilton can post big numbers then Denver will have trouble. But they need to get that running game going or else.
Unfortunately for Indy, I see the Broncos scaling things back a bit and going to the ground game to try to slow down the Colt offense. CJ Anderson with Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson mixed in will keep Indianapolis off-balanced and then Emmanuel Sanders and Demauryius Thomas will be able to come through with big gains. Will Julius Thomas be back to full strength? Broncos 48, Colts 31