Overview: For the second straight week, the New England Patriots will be hosting a talented second year quarterback on an undefeated team. Last week they held Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons to only 10 points in a 26-10 win. They might have a little tougher time this time around against Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.
Last Week: The Patriots looked good both offensively and defensively in the win over the Falcons. The running game finally showed some life as Fred Taylor rushed for 105 yards. Tom Brady was solid completing 25 of 42 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots controlled the ball for 40 minutes. The defense held Atlanta to 257 yards and 10 points.
The Ravens had an easy time against the Cleveland Browns in a 34-3 victory. Joe Flacco had his second 300+ yard passing day of the season as he connected on 25 of 35 passes for 342 yards and a touchdown. The running game was also solid as Willis McGahee rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carried. The defense limited Cleveland to 186 total yards and intercepted four passes.
All-Time Series: The Patriots and Ravens have met only four times with earning all four victories. However, the last meeting, in week 13 of the 2007 season, went down to the wire, as the Patriots were able to maintain their undefeated record. New England scored the go-ahead touchdown with 44 seconds remaining as Brady found Jabar Gaffney in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown. The Ravens nearly pulled out the win, but Mark Clayton was tackled shy of the end zone after catching a desperation pass on the final play of the game.
Key Questions Entering Week Four:
Baltimore Ravens: This may be the week the question of whether the Ravens explosive offense of 2009 is for real or just has looked good against poor defensive teams. Joe Flacco has looked like an All-Pro and the running game has been excellent. If the Ravens, who have scored 30 or more points in each of the first three games of the season, are able to maintain their offensive onslaught in New England, then the doubting about their ability is over.
New England Patriots: Injuries continue to plague the Patriots, especially on defense. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork left the game against Atlanta with an ankle injury and his status is very questionable for Sunday. The Patriots also figure to be without Jerod Mayo for the third straight game. Gary Guyton, Brandon McGowan, Adalius Thomas and the rest of the defense will have to continue to pick up the slack if the Patriots hope to ground the high flying Ravens.
Player To Watch:
Baltimore Ravens: If Vince Wilfork is unable to play for the Patriots, running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee could have an excellent chance to continue their strong starts running the ball. Rice leads the team with 192 yards and is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. McGahee is right on his heels with 190 yards, while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. McGahee has also scored five rushing touchdowns in just three games.
New England Patriots: With Mayo sidelined, another second year linebacker for the Patriots, Gary Guyton has emerged as their top tackler. He has 21 tackles, including 12 solo stops. He will have to be ready against the Ravens as they have shown the ability to both run and throw the football with great success.
Predictions: Considering that this is the matchup I originally predicted for the AFC Championship Game, I am not at all surprised that these two teams are both looking like legitimate playoff contenders. Both teams have something to prove. The Patriots are still dealing with critics that think they are a step slower than in the past and can be beaten by younger, faster teams. The Ravens are still trying to show that they belong in the upper echelon of the league, especially on offense. A win by the Ravens would prove to the rest of the league that they are indeed a Super Bowl contender.
This is a very tough one to pick, especially in New England, but I have this feeling that the Ravens are just a little better team than the Patriots. It would not surprise me at all if this is another classic game that comes down to the last seconds.
Final Score: Ravens 28, Patriots 24.