1. The last time the Patriots visited the Baltimore Ravens, in Week 3 of last season, one of the top storylines was receiver Wes Welker's reduced workload. Julian Edelman was pushing him for playing time, and with Welker playing on the franchise tag and in hope of a long-term deal, the storyline naturally made sports talk-radio buzz. With the Patriots back in Baltimore on Sunday, it's timely to revisit the Welker/Edelman dynamic. Welker, who will miss his second consecutive game with a concussion with the Broncos, has played 770 of 1,055 snaps this season (72.9 percent). Meanwhile, Edelman leads all Patriots receivers, playing 895 of 1,059 snaps (84.5 percent). It's been a reversal in a sense: Welker (73 catches, tied for 16th in NFL) was long known for his durability while the big knock on Edelman (89 catches, fifth in NFL) was if he could stay healthy. Meanwhile, the player the Patriots projected as the top replacement for Welker, receiver Danny Amendola, has played 514 of 1,059 snaps (48.5 percent).
2. Second-year kicker Justin Tucker has been a major catalyst in the Ravens' four-game winning streak, his 61-yard game-winning field goal against the Lions on Monday night the latest example of his impressive work. Here's a thought: If Billy Cundiff doesn't miss a late field goal in the 2011 AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, it's possible Tucker might not be a Raven. Tucker went undrafted out of Texas in 2012 and signed with the Ravens, in part, because he knew the incumbent was on some shaky ground. The Bears and Cowboys were his other options, per the Baltimore Sun.
3. As reported by colleague Field Yates, Bill Belichick altered the Patriots' regular routine on Friday, taking players to the movies at nearby Patriot Place to see a sneak preview of “Lone Survivor.” The movie focuses on a Navy SEAL operation from 2005 in northern Afghanistan, and it turns out the Patriots weren't the only team to view it. On this week's “BS Report” with Bill Simmons, filmmaker Peter Berg said that the Broncos, Browns, Cowboys, Panthers and Redskins received screenings as well. Berg added that Florida State watched the film the night before beating Clemson in October. It's always interesting to hear behind-the-scenes stories about how coaches attempt to motivate players and bring them together.
4. When the NFL schedule came out, and a Patriots-Ravens game on Dec. 22 in Baltimore was circled, it made sense to think that elements would be a factor. But not like this. The high temperature Sunday could reach above 70 degrees, with some significant winds and a chance of rain/thundershowers. That could test the conditioning of players, and along those lines, Belichick said on "Patriots All-Access" that this is the time of year he sometimes trims things back, shortening some practices and meetings with the idea of keeping players fresh. “There are things we've been doing all year; not that we can't continue to work on them, but there comes a point of diminishing returns where I think mental fatigue could override the actual execution and practice reps on the field,” he said. “We try to balance those things out. ... We still want to be fresh at this time of year.” That could also have been a factor in Friday's trips to the movies.
5. At the start of the season, if you would have said that Josh Kline, a rookie who went undrafted out of Kent State, might be starting for the Patriots at left guard in a key Week 16 game against the Ravens, well ... you should go play the lottery. This highlights how the Patriots' offensive line is being pieced together, a result of starting left tackle Nate Solder staying home because of a concussion, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer landing on season-ending injured reserve (leg) and swing tackle Will Svitek being hampered by an ankle injury. That's why left guard Logan Mankins is likely to kick out to left tackle Sunday, with Kline taking over at guard, where he'll be responsible for, among other things, blocking Haloti Ngata. Who is Josh Kline? Here is his “football journey” from a few weeks back.
6a. Did you Know, Part I: Only one of eight division winners and four of 12 playoff teams have been determined. In Week 16 of the past two seasons, seven teams had clinched playoff berths and at least four division winners had been determined (five in 2012, four in 2011).
6b. Did you Know, Part II: The Chiefs have a 6-1 road record, which ranks best among playoff contenders.
6c. Did you Know, Part III: As noted by ESPN's Stats & Information, the Chiefs have outscored opponents by 115 points on points off turnovers this season, easily the best mark in the NFL. That is 35 more points than the next team (49ers), putting Kansas City in range to match the 2010 Patriots, who had the best “points off turnovers” margin of any team over the past 10 years. The Patriots outscored opponents off turnovers by 119 points that year -- 47 more than the next team (Packers).
6d. Did you Know, Part IV: Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel's 382-yard passing performance last week helped him become just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 380 yards in a game for three different teams (Patriots, Chiefs, Vikings). Boomer Esiason, Trent Green, Warren Moon, Carson Palmer and Vinny Testaverde are the others.
6e. Did you Know, Part V: The Seahawks, who host the Cardinals on Sunday, have won 14 straight home games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The Patriots' eight-game streak ranks second.
7. Belichick often says that his experience as a special-teams coach early in his career has been invaluable in his role as a head coach. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, meanwhile, is one of the most recent examples of a former special-teams coach proving to be an excellent head coach. Still, we don't hear much about special-teams coaches when it comes to possible candidates for some of this year's vacancies. Peter King of TheMMQB.com noted some of the recommended candidates this past week.
8. When Patriots punter Ryan Allen was asked his opinion on the hit that ended Bengals punter Kevin Huber's season, and which earned Steeler Terence Garvin a $25,000 fine and had NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino saying that punters are defenseless throughout the down, he first wondered if Garvin even knew he was hitting a punter. Allen also said he doesn't agree with the idea of punters being defenseless, as he views himself more as an “11th defender,” making the point that he's 185 pounds and could be attempting to tackle a returner who is also 185. From this viewpoint, the idea that punters are defenseless throughout the down makes little sense. Much like a quarterback attempting to make a tackle on an interception return, there is a way that they can protect themselves by playing smart. As for the hit on Huber, I think it would have been a fineable offense on any player, not just a punter.
9. The Patriots got a lot out of running back Danny Woodhead last season; his 423 offensive snaps (34.1 percent) were second behind Stevan Ridley (555 snaps, 44.8 percent). But it turns out the Chargers are getting even more out of Woodhead, who has played 435 offensive snaps through 14 games and could hit 500 depending on how things unfold over the final two games. This challenges the perception that Woodhead is more of a change-of-pace back. For a comparison, Ridley leads Patriots running backs with 294 snaps this season, followed by Shane Vereen (267), Brandon Bolden (263) and LeGarrette Blount (220). Injuries obviously add important context, as Vereen's total would be higher if he hadn't been placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list after the season opener.
10. One of the mysteries of the 2013 Patriots season is how kickoff returner Leon Washington never emerged with the team, but after joining the Titans on Nov. 26 he has ripped off a few big returns. The Patriots' struggles in the kick0return game are now two-plus seasons old. No team has had to drive a longer field this season, as the Patriots' average drive start of the 20.4 ranks last in the NFL (the Vikings are first at 26.8). With rookie Josh Boyce out with an ankle injury Sunday, Blount and safety Devin McCourty are top candidates to fill the role.
New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who is dealing with a concussion for the second straight week, and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) did not travel with the team to Baltimore on Saturday and were ruled out for the team's Week 16 game against the Ravens.
Solder missed Wednesday's practice before returning on both Thursday and Friday on a limited basis, the same pattern he followed leading up to Week 15, during which he was a game-time decision but did play against the Miami Dolphins. He was forced out of that game early in the fourth quarter after appearing to be kneed near the head.
The Patriots used standout left guard Logan Mankins to replace Solder last weekend, sliding rookie Josh Kline into Mankins' normal left guard spot. It's unclear how the Patriots will construct their offensive line Sunday, with veteran Will Svitek a potential option as a starter. Svitek has played both tackle spots and guard during his career but is currently dealing with an ankle injury that has limited him in recent weeks.
Mankins is a former college left tackle at Fresno State, though the Patriots drafted him to play adjacent to longtime left tackle Matt Light.
Instead, it was Logan Mankins who kicked to left tackle, with rookie Josh Kline -- not Svitek -- taking over at left guard.
There's no definitive word on Solder's status for this Sunday, but if he does sit due to a concussion, it'll be interesting to see how the Patriots handle his absence.
The most likely scenario is perhaps picking up where they left off last week, with Mankins at left tackle and Kline at left guard.
One reason that Svitek may not have been inserted in the game last week is that he may not have had reps playing left guard during practice this season. We saw him work extensively at right guard during training camp, but Mankins held down the fort on the left side.
With a week of practice to prepare for the possibility of playing without Solder, one may wonder if the Patriots will consider shuffling the deck along the line to get their five best healthy linemen on the field.
If they believe Svitek is a superior option to Kline, the Patriots may be able to keep Mankins at left tackle, use Dan Connolly at left guard, and place Svitek at either right guard or right tackle, with Marcus Cannon at the leftover spot.
To be clear: We have no knowledge that the team prefers Svitek to Kline with all things being equal, as it could be that they believe Kline is their best option as a reserve guard.
But, considering it was Svitek taking so many reps with the top unit in training camp, it seems plausible that he could be inserted into the lineup if Solder sits this Sunday.
Our best guess on the list for Sunday's game against the Ravens:
Michael Buchanan: Rookie defensive end was a healthy scratch for the first time last Sunday, as fullback James Develin took on some of his special-teams duties. Buchanan hasn't played on defense since Nov. 3 against the Steelers.
Nate Solder: Starting left tackle has been on the injury report the past two weeks with a concussion and left last Sunday's loss to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter after getting kicked/kneed in the head. He missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday.
D.J. Williams: With Michael Hoomanawanui returning to the lineup last week, and playing a tight end-high 71 snaps, Williams as a third option at the position gets trumped by needs at other positions.
Duron Harmon: Rookie safety provides key depth, but in a week where there aren't as many players to rule out because of injury, and with him not playing on any first-string special-teams units last week, he could be edged out in favor of a fourth defensive tackle with a physical game in mind.
Steve Beauharnais: Linebacker, a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, is on the developmental track as he's been inactive for 11 games this season.
Jake Bequette: Second-year defensive end is fifth on the depth chart and has been inactive the past seven games.
Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver and primary kickoff returner has already been ruled out with an ankle injury sustained in the fourth quarter last Sunday.
(Last week: 5 of 7 projections correct.)
It seems safe to say he made the right one by picking football.
The Patriots made Dobson a central piece in their youthful, revamped receiving corps by selecting him in the second round of the draft (59th overall).
In 10 games this season (seven starts), Dobson has totaled 35 catches for 492 yards and four touchdowns. He's missed the last three games with a foot injury but appears to be close to a return, likely Sunday against the Ravens. His height and leaping ability make him unique among Patriots receivers and could benefit an offense that is readjusting following the season-ending injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Dobson shares his "football journey":
When he first started playing football: "When I was 6. I was real young. I played for Dunbar, my hometown [in West Virginia]. We had Little League."
What got him started: "I was always active. My older brother played; he's four years older than me. When he first started, I would be out there practicing and I remember having my own little Dallas Cowboys uniform. I'd just be out there running around."
Favorite teams and players growing up: "I wouldn't say I was a big Cowboys fan, but my dad was. That's probably how I had that jersey, but I didn't really have a favorite team."
Favorite players growing up: "Of course I liked [Randy] Moss, because he's from where I'm from. Plus, he's a beast, a great receiver. I watched Moss a lot."
Top football memories at South Charleston High School: "My state championship year. My senior year, we won it. It was a great feeling, and I remember, we called it out in eighth grade -- 'Once we're seniors, we're going to win it.' It felt good to do that with the [friends] I grew up with."
High school games that stand out: "I would say that state championship game. We played our rivals, George Washington, and we're probably about 10 minutes away from each other. We whooped them, 39-8, so that was fun."
Why attending Marshall was the right choice: "I have a big family support system, so being close to home had a lot to do with it. And I really didn't have too many other choices. I had offers from Marshall, Delaware and Hofstra. Marshall being the biggest, D-I, I felt like I could play there. It was close to home. I liked the coaches there. I just felt like it was a good fit for me."
Taking a college visit to Northeastern as a basketball recruit: "It was fun. I remember my host, Manny [Adako], he was a big guy who played power forward. We went to a hockey game, which was my first time doing that. It was a good time."
Favorite football memories at Marshall: "Our bowl games -- my freshman year and junior year. The catch I made at home ... My junior year, our team was very close that year and we had a good time at the bowl game, down in Florida."
Entering the NFL draft: "I was excited, very anxious. It was a very long process and I didn't know where I was going to end up. It was fun, but long, very emotional. I took a visit up here after the combine, and they came and worked me out, but I didn't know the Patriots would make the pick. When they did, I was excited. This is a great organization, with great teammates, great vets with how they carry themselves and embrace us. I just feel like I'm in a great place."
What he loves about football: "Meeting all types of different people, from everywhere, and bonding with them and working hard with them, and then getting the reward of going out and competing with them on Sunday."
What he prides himself on as a player: "I compete and am not going to give up, no matter who is lined up across from me. I'm going to give you my best."
What he's learned most through football: "Just dealing with adversity. You go through a lot of it -- the whole game is like life, you have ups, downs, interceptions, dropped passes. You have to learn how to shake it off and move on to the next thing, whatever it is, and embrace it."
Role models in his life: "I would definitely say my parents [Angie and Robert Dobson], by far. They've been there for me through everything. Anything I was doing, they always stood behind me. They spent a lot of money on me to do things, like AAU basketball. I just really thank them and am appreciative of them supporting me the way they have."
Summing up his football journey: "It's been fun. A lot of ups and downs, injuries and things. It's been a great ride and I'm just glad I got to the point I wanted to be, the NFL, which is a dream come true. Hopefully I have a lot of football left."
This Sunday's rematch of last year's AFC championship game has that feel.
Even if there wasn't so much at stake for both the Patriots and Ravens in Week 16, the buildup to this game would likely be intense. There's no love lost between these two teams, who have shared the field for some of the more memorable games in recent NFL seasons.
The fact that there are playoff implications for both sides makes the matchup even more intriguing. The Patriots can potentially clinch a top two seed in the AFC if things fall their way, or at the very least can sew up the AFC East division crown with a win.
The Ravens, meanwhile, can move closer to an AFC North title with a win, and a win combined with a Miami loss would ensure that they'll extend their NFL-best streak of seasons making it to the playoffs to six.
The Patriots are hopeful to become just the second team to beat the Ravens on their home turf this season, and if they are able to do so, it would be their best win away from Gillette Stadium in 2013.
With plenty to play for, here's a look at what we'll be watching for this Sunday.
1. Red zone offense. The Patriots have scored touchdowns on just 39 percent of their red zone trips in games that Rob Gronkowski has not played in this season. For the seven-game stretch that they had Gronk, that number ballooned to 69 percent. The Ravens happen to boast the league's best red zone defense and stymied the Patriots in the red zone last postseason, so converting their chances will be a tremendous key for the Patriots this weekend. The potential return of wide receiver Aaron Dobson, whose 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame makes him a difficult matchup in man coverage, would aid the offense in the red area.
2. Blindside protector. For the second consecutive week, Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder is dealing with a concussion. He was able to play in Week 15, but ultimately left the game early after appearing to take a knee from a Dolphins player. While he hasn't been ruled out for Sunday, if he's unable to play, it'll be interesting to see how the Patriots opt to replace him. They kicked Logan Mankins out to left tackle last Sunday, inserting Josh Kline in at left guard. With a week of practice, the team could also opt to insert veteran Will Svitek at one of those spots if need be.
3. Kickers battle. It's not often that we highlight the kickers in advance of the games, but this Sunday features a pair that have had largely terrific seasons. Stephen Gostkowksi slipped up for his team last week but has still had clutch moments this season. Justin Tucker, the Ravens kicker, drilled six field goals Monday night, including a game winner from 61 yards. He's in line for potential postseason honors. Their strong legs shorten the field for an offense.
4. Slowing Rice. Ray Rice hasn't had nearly his best season in 2013; in fact, he's averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Nonetheless, he's still a gifted running back whom the Patriots, who have had massive struggles stopping the run, must account for. While Rice is most often responsible for carrying the football, he's also a reliable pass catcher that will flare out of the backfield and make yards in open space. Coverage has been an area of struggle for Patriots linebackers this season, and containing Rice as a pass catcher will be no small chore.
5. Pressuring Flacco. The last time the Patriots played the Ravens, they didn't register a single hit on quarterback Joe Flacco. He largely had his way, working the middle of the field effectively by targeting tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Sacks have been an issue for Baltimore this season, and the Patriots need to find their way to Flacco early and often. The two individual matchups to watch will be Chandler Jones facing off against left tackle Eugene Monroe and Rob Ninkovich working to get around right tackle Michael Oher.
Boyce, the team’s primary kickoff returner who had taken on an expanded role at receiver the past two weeks because of injuries to others, had not practiced all week after injuring the ankle in the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins. Running back LeGarrette Blount and safety Devin McCourty are top candidates to take over the kickoff return duties.
At receiver, reinforcements appear to be coming in the form of rookie receivers Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), both of whom are questionable but have their best chance to suit up since sustaining their injuries. Dobson, who has missed the past three games, said Thursday that he thinks he has a chance to play. He’s been limited in practice all week, his first full week of practice since leaving the team’s Nov. 24 win over the Denver Broncos in the second half. Thompkins has also been limited all week after injuring his hip Dec. 1 against Houston.
Elsewhere, starting left tackle Nate Solder is questionable with a concussion. He was not present at Wednesday’s practice before he was limited in Thursday’s and Friday’s practices.
Patriots players, as a group, were heading to the movies at nearby Patriot Place to see "Lone Survivor."
Many of those shopping in the area quickly took out their phones to snap pictures, and one image stood out above all else -- head athletic trainer Jim Whalen pushing injured tight end Rob Gronkowski in a wheelchair, with Gronkowski's right knee/leg elevated.
As colleague Field Yates noted, sometimes trips like this can serve as a bonding experience, as long as they don't come at the expense of work. And at this point of the week, most of the Patriots' work is completed. Then again, the Jets tried something similar the night before a November game against the Bills, with a team excursion to Dave & Busters, but it didn't produce the desired result.
In the end, the idea of breaking routine, ever so slightly, comes down to a head coach's feel for his team.
Bill Belichick was expansive and engaging in his morning news conference, going into detail on a variety of topics. Players relayed in the locker room early this morning that Belichick has generally been pretty positive with them this week as well.
That seems to be a theme of the past few days.
After a tough loss to the Dolphins, and now a challenging road game at Baltimore on Sunday, the different-from-the-norm vibe has been notable at Gillette Stadium. This could, among other things, be geared toward keeping a younger team loose as the playoff stakes get higher.
Why the change-up?
The team headed off to the movies to see "Lone Survivor" following the conclusion of practice Friday morning, their final tune-up before Sunday's showdown with Baltimore.
The trip probably serves as something of a bonding experience for the team, which can clinch its fifth straight AFC East division title with a win Sunday in Baltimore.
Belichick has infamously taken his team to the movies in previous seasons, including viewings of "The Fighter" and a trip to the IMAX theatre to see a film about Ernest Shackleton.
At this time of the year, even a non-football related endeavor can pay off on the field.
We'll see if the latest cinematic experience can help, even a little bit, propel the team to victory.
Asked if he hated the Ravens, McCourty said, "A little bit."
There's only one problem with the verbal shot: It can't mathematically happen. The Ravens could be eliminated from winning the AFC North if they lose to the Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Minnesota Vikings.
But Baltimore can't be eliminated from the playoffs, no matter what happens Sunday. Even with a loss and a win by the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens would only be one game back of the Dolphins for the final wild-card spot and they still hold the tiebreaker. It would put the Ravens in a bad spot, but they wouldn't be outright eliminated from contention.
Along those lines, second-year safety Tavon Wilson is on the mind today.
It started with Bill Belichick's morning news conference and his "below-the-line" level discussion, which got me thinking of players who might fall into the category of those looking to dig themselves out of that type of situation. Running back Stevan Ridley is an obvious choice.
Wilson, a 2012 second-round draft choice out of Illinois, is another as he's fallen off the radar on defense.
Consider that Wilson was charted on the field for 473 defensive snaps in his rookie season. This year, he's been charted on the field for five defensive snaps.
It is often said that the jump from the first to second season is one where the greatest rate of improvement is seen, but that hasn't happened in this case.
Last year, some of Wilson's greatest struggles came against the deep ball when playing more of a traditional safety role. Long pass plays against the Seahawks and Rams, which came on similar routes in which he was part of coverage beaten over the top, produced touchdowns. He's never truly been called upon in that role since.
This year, Wilson finds himself fourth on the safety depth chart, behind starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, as well as 2013 third-round pick Duron Harmon. At 6-foot and 215 pounds, he is the team's biggest safety and seems to have more of a linebacker-type skill set. He has played a linebacker-type role in the dime defense in the past, but even that's been limited this year.
Wilson's primary contributions now come on special teams and in the locker room, where it's clear that he's well-liked and a team-first player.
But the defensive breakthrough the team hoped for after making him a surprise second-round pick in 2012 hasn't happened.
After the Ravens trudged through snow in their last home game, the forecast for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots is 70 degrees and a 60 percent chance of rain. There is potential for severe thunderstorms.
"Does that mean lightning? So, that could be a delay, right?," coach John Harbaugh said after Friday's practice. "I wouldn't be surprised if that happens."
The Ravens have already had two games delayed by weather this season. The kickoff for their season opener at Denver was pushed back a half hour because of lightning. Then, five weeks ago, the Ravens' game at Chicago was stopped for 1 hour, 53 minutes because of tornados in the area.
Sunday's game has major playoff implications for the Ravens. A win against the Patriots means the Ravens are playing for the AFC North title in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. A loss could significantly hurt the Ravens' playoff chances.
Friday morning’s expansive news conference lasted more than 25 minutes, and his delivery at times almost felt like what one might hear at a behind-closed-doors team meeting. Then afterwards, he stopped outside of the Gillette Stadium media workroom to conduct a one-on-one interview with Patriots.com.
If there was one thing that stood out from the news conference, it was Belichick discussing the “below-the-line” level.
Belichick embraced the line of questioning.
“Everybody has to understand that there’s a ‘below-the-line’ level,” he said. “When it’s below the line, we can’t live with it. It hurts the team. Now we’re all going to make mistakes, and nobody makes more of them than I do. I understand that mistakes are part of the game. I’ve been in it long enough to know there’s no perfect player, no perfect game or practice. If you go out there and compete against high-level competition, they’re going to make some plays, too.
“But there’s a below-the-line [level] and we just can’t live with that and expect to win,” he continued. “That’s the bottom line. Things are going to happen that are below the line that we have to correct, but we have to stay above the line. It’s as simple as that. That line is drawn at every position with various criteria. It’s not scientific, there’s no textbook on it, how to handle each situation. … That’s a critical part of coaching in any sport. Particularly football, but any sport.
"The things that cause you to lose, you have to eliminate. Before you can win, you can’t lose. When you do things as a coach or as a player that cause you to lose, then you won’t be in this job long.”
Belichick was asked how a player might elevate from being below the line to above it. He cited current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome as a classic example.
“When he was rookie, he fumbled, lost the ball, team lost the game, [then] never fumbled again the rest of his career,” Belichick said, starting to shift into more of a motivational speaker-type mode.
“Why is Ozzie Newsome in the Hall of Fame? That’s why. That kind of commitment, that kind of performance. It was important enough to him. Fumbled once, didn’t fumble again the rest of his entire [13-year] career. Now think about that. Want to know how a guy gets in the Hall of Fame? That’s one reason.
“Lawrence Taylor. How many sacks did he have? How many times was he offside? Go back and look how many times he was offside. It wasn’t very many. There’s a guy that hit the quarterback, made as many plays defensively as any player in football, certainly any player I’ve ever coached but any player in football – I’d put him up against anybody in terms of big plays, hitting the quarterback, tackles beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’t care what the stats are, a lot of plays that he made, that somebody else made, but he was an impact, dynamic, as disruptive a player defensively as there’s probably ever been in the National Football League. How many times was he offside? Was he offside? Yeah, but he was a pretty disruptive player without doing that.
“I think those are examples of what I’m talking about – for all of us. We all make mistakes, even the great ones, but they don’t repeat them, they don’t make very many of them, they correct it, it’s important enough to them to move on and get it right. That’s how you do it. You get it right.”
Considering New England’s 70-25 record against the rest of the league over that span, .500 is a success. The Ravens have taken two of the three postseason meetings between the teams, including last season’s AFC Championship.
Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s Week 16 matchup:
As the QB goes...
Simply put, the Ravens have received better quarterback play in recent meetings against the Patriots.
Baltimore has picked off nine of Tom Brady's passes since 2008, tied with the Dolphins for most by any team. Miami has also played twice as many games (12) and allowed 14 more touchdowns vs. the Patriots than Baltimore.
The Ravens are a different defense from the unit that led the league in defensive expected points added from 2008-12 (+434). Baltimore’s +29.8 defensive EPA ranks eighth in the league, not as dominant as year’s past.
Patriots pass rush vs. Ravens offensive line
The Patriots are reliant on a four-man pass rush (they rush four men 75 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL), but their defensive line has struggled this season.
New England has controlled the line of scrimmage on 43 percent of pass plays this season, last in the league (for an explainer on how that is calculated, click here. Even before Vince Wilfork’s Week 4 injury ended his season, the Patriots defensive line only controlled 44 percent of pass plays. That’s well below league average (50 percent), a number New England has not met in its last nine games.
The player whose presence is missed the most isn’t Wilfork, but Tommy Kelly. When New England had Kelly on the field, it controlled the line on slightly more than half of opposing dropbacks. Without Kelly, the number drops to only 41 percent.
Every team wants to pressure the quarterback, but for New England it’s especially important. The Patriots defense has the third-best Total QBR allowed when quarterbacks are under pressure, but the fourth-worst when quarterbacks aren’t pressured. The 26-spot difference in rank is the biggest in the league.
Ravens CB vs. Patriots WR
Baltimore’s secondary has defended or intercepted 50 passes this season, tied for fourth most in the league, with Lardarius Webb’s 18 the second most among players. Only the Ravens and Browns have three defensive backs with at least 10 pass breakups or interceptions.
Baltimore is a top-10 defense in completion percentage and Total QBR allowed against at least three wide receivers, and has excelled defending slot receivers.
Brady’s weapons last week were all slot receivers. Of Brady’s 55 passes against Miami, 43 went to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce or Austin Collie.
Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB
Ray Rice has topped 125 yards from scrimmage in four of his six games against New England, but New England held him to 70 yards from scrimmage and 3.0 yards per opportunity (targets and rushes) in last year’s AFC Championship. Both were the lowest of his six games against the Patriots.
Rice’s recent form has been dismal. His 3.1 yards per rush ranks 46th among qualified rushers, while no qualified running back has averaged fewer yards after contact per rush than Rice (1.1). He’s averaged 4.2 yards per target, 44th in the league among 50 backs with at least 20 targets.
Is facing New England what Rice needs to get back on track? The Patriots defense has allowed 150.4 yards from scrimmage per game by running backs, seventh most in the league. With no Jerod Mayo, look for Dont’a Hightower on early downs and possibly Dane Fletcher in sub packages to be tasked with slowing Rice.