C├ęspedes brings a powerful bat to Fenway Park...until he becomes a free agent after 2015. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Flurry of trades leaves Red Sox in state of uncertainty Chicago White Sox v Boston Red Sox Red Sox Trade Andrew Miller for Top 100 Prospect Rodriguez Stephen Drew (Photo: Bill Kostroun) Red Sox Trade Stephen Drew to Yankees for Kelly Johnson Less than a season after pitching in the World Series clincher against the Cardinals, John Lackey has been traded from the Red Sox to St. Louis at the trade deadline in exchange for Allen Craig. (Boston Globe) MLB Trade Deadline: Red Sox Trade John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals for Allen Craig

Patriots-Ravens: Previewing the First Playoff Meeting

They worked all season to get to this point. Now, the New England Patriots will have to best a perennial defensive power house in the Baltimore Ravens. It is one of the four rematches from the regular season being played this weekend. The Patriots will hope for a repeat of the 27-21 win during Week 4. Since then, the Ravens have been playing stellar football and hope to spoil New England’s future playoff plans.

HOW THEY GOT HERE:

New England has had a roller coaster season. Half of New England’s games this season have been decided by a touchdown, including five of their losses. However, they persevered and outlasted the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets to capture the AFC East. Last season, they were 11-5 and missed the playoffs. This season, 10-6 was enough to win the division and earn a home playoff game. The Patriots now welcome the Ravens to Foxboro, a team they are 5-0 against all time.

Baltimore surprised the world last season when they went all the way to the AFC Championship, led by a rookie coach (John Harbaugh) and quarterback (Joe Flacco). They wasted little time this year, starting 3-0 until they ran into the Patriots. Their schedule was a mix of top teams (Colts and Vikings) and bottom dwellers (Browns and Lions), and they finished with a 9-7 record, second in their division to the Bengals. As a wild card team last season, they had no struggles on the road and they are looking to repeat in the new decade.

WHY NEW ENGLAND WILL WIN:

There are certain teams that New England does not lose to and one of them is the Ravens. Since the Browns became the Ravens in 1996, the Patriots have gone 5-0 against the birds. However, this will be a first-time matchup in the playoffs. Still, how much of a difference will this game be from the Week 4 tilt? In that matchup, Mark Clayton dropped a would-be first down pass that would have kept a potential game-winning drive alive for the Ravens. It was a game New England should have lost, (their top receiver was Ben Watson with 51 yards and they had no rusher over 25 yards), but in the end, they prevailed. In the end, it’s not how you win, but that you win.

So, the simple fact that New England has Tom Brady at the helm should be enough. Even with Wes Welker down, Brady’s weapons of Randy Moss, Ben Watson, Julian Edelman, and Kevin Faulk will allow him to spread the ball around and keep New England rolling.

This game also sees the return of Vince Wilfork. The big man on defense will eliminate any holes for Baltimore’s Ray Rice or Willis McGahee. The Ravens runners are north-to-south guys who run right down the middle and by shutting them down, New England will ruin Baltimore’s offense. With a quarterback who can control the clock and a defense that can make the other team continue to punt, there is no doubt that the Patriots will win the game.

WHY BALTIMORE WILL WIN:

New England might have been team of the decade, but Baltimore was the defense of the decade. They have had the most feared linebacker in recent memory, Ray Lewis. Their secondary is manned by Ed Reed, a man who has a better nose for the ball than most receivers. So, there is a reason why they should be angry. The only talk about defense is how the New York Jets have the best in the league, by far. If that isn’t enough to get a team fired up, then nothing is. The Ravens have six guys who have two or more interceptions on the season. Ray Lewis is fifth in the league in tackles and leads a pass rush that has collected 32 sacks on the season.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have a duel run threat with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee and a quarterback that doesn’t make many mistakes. No experts out of Baltimore are picking the Ravens to win, which does create an “us against the world” mentality. This game will be a statement game for the Ravens, proving they still have a great defense and that last season’s AFC Championship appearance was no fluke.

THE X-FACTOR:

Who will win the wide receiver battle? Derrick Mason was the Ravens leader in receiving yards with 1,028, but Ray Rice was first in receptions with 78 and the team’s second leading receiver. Todd Heap, Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington have not been the models of perfection. They also are not sure things for Joe Flacco. If New England shuts the running game down, every member of the Ravens receiving corp will have to step up their game, or they will have an early exit from the playoffs.

When you talk about receivers in New England, all talk goes to the loss of Wes Welker. He is done for a while and Randy Moss appears to be injured as well. That leaves Ben Watson as the teams next leading receiver with 404 yards. Moss will be active for the team and hopefully his injury is one of Bill Belichick’s mind tricks. Edelman and Sam Aiken will see a lot of playing time and Kevin Faulk will see many passes going his way when he’s in the game.

Not-So-Fun-Fact: Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree, yes the “helmet catch guy,” now plays for the Ravens and is fourth on their depth chart. Do not be surprised if he makes an appearance, if only to be used as a distraction.

PREDICTION:

This could be the closest game played during Wild Card Weekend. If New England can not control the Ravens run game, there is no chance they will win. The last time around, the Patriots did not allow a rushing touchdown. If they can repeat that success, then New England advancing in the playoffs is a sure thing. The loss of Wes Welker will be felt this week, but if there was one person who could over come that obstacle, it’s Tom Brady. The Ravens will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the Patriots, but trust in Belichick. He lives for these games. Patriots 27 – Ravens 20.

About Teddy

Was born in Queens, NY, but moved up to New Hampshire around 12, when my interest in sports really began to boom. A huge fan of the Boston sports scene, especially the Sox, Celts, Bruins and Pats. Went to Keene State College where I majored in Journalism and went around covering the college teams. Not just a bandwagon fan... i tend to follow everything from the Draft to Championships. Love to write and look forward to bringing a fun, interesting style... hopefully...

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