The New England Patriots were supposed to be the best team in the NFL but a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 has changed that perception. Tom Brady and the explosive offense showed up in Week 1 but were put to sleep in by the Cardinals last week – is that an aberration or a trend?
We’ll find out more this week as the Patriots visit the Baltimore Ravens, the very team that nearly beat them in the AFC Championship Game last season. The Ravens will be eyeing some revenge to prove that they’re the better team in 2012.
If the Patriots can’t improve on their performance from last week, it’s entirely possibly we see Bill Belichick’s crew hold a losing record for the first time since 2003.
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
NFL Betting Odds: Ravens -3
How The Patriots Can Win
Get back to the basics: moving the football, scoring points and putting the pressure on their opponent. Last week, the Patriots were sleep walking in the first half and screwed up some fundamentals. A blocked punt was the game-changer and even as sloppy as they played, they still had a shot at a game-winning 42-yard field goal as time was expiring.
Having Aaron Hernandez out might be a blessing in disguise for the Patriots. For whatever reason, Brady hadn’t been finding Wes Welker with much consistency but he’ll become a focal point once again. If he can dominate the slot, then Brandon Lloyd will have less work to do to get open on the outside as will Rob Gronkowski in the middle. This is still one of the league’s best offenses – even if they were slowed last week.
The Ravens defense has played well so far but they’ll really miss Terrell Suggs for this contest. He’s their best pass rusher and the loss of him means Brady gets more time to think. That’s bad news for Baltimore.
How The Ravens Can Win
The Ravens already had a blueprint to slow the Patriots offense but the Cardinals just made their job even easier. The Patriots won’t have the services of tight end Aaron Hernandez, which cripples the team’s popular two tight end sets, and Wes Welker has been a surprising non-factor in the Patriots plans so far this season. After collecting 122 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns last season, he has a measly eight grabs for 109 yards and no touchdowns through two weeks.
The Ravens now field the better of the two offenses as Joe Flacco and the no-huddle attack have taken flight. They’ve scored 67 points through two games and they’ve moved the ball with surprising ease through the air. Flacco wasn’t kidding when he said he was an elite quarterback: he’s completed 60.6 percent of his passes so far with a 91.9 quarterback rating. Both are improvements on last season.
While nobody would ever mix up M&T Bank Stadium with Lambeau Field or the Superdome, the Ravens have quietly compiled one of the better home records on their own turf. They’ve won 12 straight at home, even though they hardly get credit for having a dominant home-field advantage.
It’s hard to believe that one of these two teams will be 1-2 after this game but it’s more likely to be New England. Their running game is still a work in progress and going on the road to Baltimore and putting the game on Brady’s shoulder – especially with him missing one of his best weapons – is going to be a challenge.
The Ravens will feed off a raucous crowd and get the win and cover.
NFL Pick: Ravens -3