10 things for Patriots-Ravens

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ten areas that project to be crucial in Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots (1 p.m.):

1. Patriots in the red zone. The Ravens are one of the top red zone defenses in the NFL, surrendering just four touchdowns in 12 opponent trips inside the 20. In a game that figures to be decided by one or two plays, opportunities in the red zone could be the deciding factor.

2. Unbalanced line and run defense. In the playoffs last season, the Patriots moved top D-lineman Vince Wilfork to defensive end to counter the Ravens' unbalanced line and power off-tackle runs. The Ravens still won the battle up front in that first-round playoff game, throwing the Patriots aside and dominating on the ground behind running back Ray Rice.

3. Battle of third-down leaders. The Patriots have the NFL's best third-down offense, as they are converting 54 percent of the time. The Ravens have the NFL's best third-down defense, holding opponents to a 26 percent conversion rate. Something has to give.

4. Immersion of Deion Branch into offense. Without Randy Moss, the Patriots have to fill an 81 percent-playing-time void, as Moss was part of every package. WR Deion Branch figures to be part of the mix in his first game back with the Patriots, while Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman project to see their playing time rise.

5. Brandon Tate versus Billy Cundiff on kickoff returns. The Patriots have one of the NFL's most explosive return units, sparked by Tate, who already has returns of 97 yards and 103 yards for touchdowns. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff is tied for the NFL lead with 11 touchbacks.

6. Who wins the turnover differential? The Ravens are tied for 30th in the NFL in turnover differential at minus-6, with three takeaways and nine giveaways. The Patriots are tied for sixth at plus-4, with eight takeaways and four giveaways.

7. Anquan Boldin and yards after the catch. In acquiring Anquan Boldin this offseason, the Ravens added one of the NFL's best yards-after-the-catch receivers. Boldin leads the Ravens with 28 receptions. If the Patriots tackle as poorly as they did against the Bills in Week 3, it will be a long afternoon.

8. Coaching chess match. In past years, when the Patriots have faced a team with a former New England assistant on staff, there has been a wrinkle in the game plan. With former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees in his first year as Ravens linebackers coach, what might that changeup be?

9. Protecting the defense. Because of their success on third down, the Ravens own a time-of-possession edge of 32:14 to 27:45 over opponents. The Patriots' young defense needs to be protected by the offense's ability to sustain drives. Opponents hold a 31:06 to 28:53 time-of-possession edge over New England.

10. Energy and emotion from the opening kickoff. Quarterback Tom Brady said of the Ravens: "They play with energy and enthusiasm for what they're doing. I think you have to be able to match that. Once they get fired up, it's tough to calm them down."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.