Sunday, December 22, 2013

Week 16 picks: Patriots at Ravens

Publisher Nick St. Denis, associate editor Dan Begnoche and senior contributor Sean Donovan pick the New England Patriots' high-stakes rematch with the Baltimore Ravens.

Dan's take:
In a crucial game with numerous playoff implications, the key here will be the play inside the 20-yard line. Baltimore has thrived in that category for most of the season but struggled of late, while New England is riding a below-grade average on the whole. The defense that can force the field goals (which are pretty much givens at this point considering the kickers) and avoid the goal-line breaches will give its offense a hearty shot at victory and control of the clock. Look for running back Ray Rice to have a breakout game against a sub-par run defense, and the Ravens' pass defense to pick up the rest of the slack.
Prediction: Ravens 22, Patriots 17

Sean's take:
The Ravens beat the Patriots twice last season, when Tom Brady still had Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker in his arsenal. Now, he'll need to beat a hot Baltimore team with an inferior supporting cast, but New England often finds a way to bridge the talent gap with superior game-planning. The Ravens' coaching staff will be prepared as well, but the Patriots manage to cap Joe Flacco and the passing attack while putting up points against a hot Baltimore defense. A couple timely turnovers key a big New England road victory.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Ravens 28

Nick's take:
The momentum-building Ravens are a team no one wants to play in the playoffs, let alone in December. Baltimore's fast defense will give the Patriots' in-motion offensive line fits, but Tom Brady finds a way. Running back Shane Vereen continues to be New England's Swiss Army back, and New England takes another step closer to securing a top-two seed.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Ravens 21