The Baltimore Ravens (10-6) were the only road team to survive Wild Card Weekend, and they’ll look to pull off an upset in back-to-back games. The No.6 seed in the AFC will visit the New England Patriots (12-4) on Saturday in the first Divisional Playoff game of 2015.
Baltimore visited the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round and picked up 30-17 victory. It marked the sixth time in seven years that the Ravens have won a playoff game.
If the Ravens hope to make a run to the Super Bowl, they’ll have to do so entirely away from home. The Patriots, on the other hand, have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
New England suffered a loss at Gillette Stadium in the regular season finale, but they might be the best home team in the NFL. Their only home defeat in 2014 came when the team had already clinched the No.1 seed, and Tom Brady spent half the game on the bench. The Patriots were undefeated at home last year, and they have just three combined regular-season losses in New England, since the start of the 2009 season.
The Patriots had more than a few impressive wins at home in 2014. Five of their eight victories came by at least three touchdowns, including wins over the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions, who made the playoffs with 23 combined wins between them.
Despite the Patriots’ success at Gillette Stadium, the Ravens know firsthand that Brady and Bill Belichick can be beaten on their home field. Just two years ago, Baltimore won the AFC Championship Game in New England, on their way to winning the Super Bowl. The Ravens held the Patriots to just 13 points and picked off Brady twice. Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes.
Flacco isn’t often considered among the league’s top quarterbacks, but he’s had a lot of success in his playoff career. Since he was drafted in 2008, the veteran has failed to win a playoff game in just one season. Flacco has thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last five postseason contests.
The 2014 season might have been the best of Flacco’s career, as he threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes and 3,986 yards. Including last week’s playoff win, the quarterback has posted a passer rating of at least 99.4 in six of his last seven games, and he might need another big performance, in order to help the Ravens beat the Patriots.
Scoring 29.3 points per game, New England finished the regular season ranked second in the conference. Brady tossed 34 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions, and he has one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was a unanimous selection to the AP All-Pro team, catching 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns in 15 games.
The Ravens boast the NFL’s No.6 defense, allowing 18.9 points per game, but the Patriots have a chance to move the ball through the air. While Baltimore ranks fourth against the run, they are 23rd against the pass, allowing 248.7 passing yards per game. The unit allowed Ben Roethlisberger to complete 69 percent of his passes for 334 yards, but the Ravens also picked the quarterback off twice, helping them win the game. The Ravens were tied for 25th in the league with just 11 interceptions in 2014.
Allowing 19.6 points per game, New England’s defense isn't far behind that of Baltimore. The addition of Akeem Ayers in the middle of the season has made a significant difference, with the team allowing 17.7 points per game, since making the trade. The linebacker recorded four sacks and one interception in nine games, helping to make up for the loss of Jerod Mayo, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
The Patriots are favored by seven points at Las Vegas casinos, and the over/under is 47.5 points. John Harbaugh is 2-1 against New England in the playoffs as the head coach of the Ravens.
Prediction: New England over Baltimore, 27-23