The New England Patriots face off with the Baltimore Ravens in this AFC divisional round playoff action. New England holds an all time 8-3 record vs. the Ravens in the playoffs, however they have lost 2 of the last 3 times that they have faced New England on the road. The Patriots should be well rested as they had a bye in the Wild Card round. The Ravens on the other hand, had to go into Pittsburgh and claim a win on the road just to advance to this weeks’ game. The early part of the season was filled with distractions thanks in large part to former running back Ray Rice who was first suspended two games and then eventually for the season due to a domestic violence incident. They were able to overcome the off the field issues as well as several injuries in order to win 10 games and a spot in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is one of the toughest places to play on the road and the Ravens made it look relatively easy. Quarterback Joe Flacco went 18/29 passing for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns. He had a lot of time to throw, as the offensive line was outstanding in pass protection. Off-season signing Steve Smith Sr. had a fantastic regular season and he continued that trend with 5 catches for 101 yards.
The Ravens win sets up a showdown in New England for the right to advance to the AFC championship game next Sunday. The Ravens and the Patriots are the two most successful teams in the playoffs over the last 15 years. This game marks their fourth postseason meeting in the last 6 years. The Patriots have now had a first round bye for 5 consecutive seasons. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the NFL record with 18 career playoff wins. He had another fantastic season, throwing for 33 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions as well as over 4000 yards. There has been a lot of turnover for both teams since their last playoff game since the top receiving threats in that game for New England (Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker) and Baltimore (Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta) are either injured for this game or no longer with the team. Add the receivers to Rice and Baltimore defensive backs Cary Williams and Daniel Ellerbe (both of whom intercepted Brady in the last playoff matchup) and you can come to the conclusion that this matchup is vastly different than the last time they played.
The Ravens have an impressive all time 10-5 record on the road in the playoffs and are one of only 2 teams over 500 in such games. Flacco has thrown 17 touchdowns against only one interception while winning 6 of his last 7 playoff games and he has 7 road playoff wins in his career. Tis game will likely be determined by the ability of the defensive lines to put pressure on the quarterbacks. Flacco had all day throw the ball against Pittsburgh and if that happens again we may very well see his road playoff success continue.
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