Our Week 6 LBS Game of the Week takes us to Gillette stadium for a match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots that will help clear some of the dust in the AFC and determine who the powerhouses are. One player who won’t be in attendance is Randy Moss. The Patriots face a true test coming off the bye week and will get a chance to see how their new, Moss-less offense stacks up against one of the best defenses in the AFC.
Last year in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, the Ravens went into Foxboro and embarrassed the Patriots on their own turf. Ray Rice exploded from the opening snap and Baltimore’s front seven harassed Tom Brady for 60 minutes. New England is looking for revenge but Baltimore won’t be intimidated. They’ve won much bigger games at Gillette than this one.
1. The Patriots Offense Without Randy Moss
You can’t undergo a more dramatic offensive change mid-season than trading away arguably your best offensive player. By trading Randy Moss to the Vikings, it would appear the Patriots are trying to get back to the offensive style they used in the first half of the decade when they won three Super Bowls. Without Moss to stretch the field, New England will likely use more two tight end sets and rely on play action passing for big gains. If they can’t establish an efficient run game against a Baltimore defense that ranks 10th in the NFL against the run, they’ll have a tough time throwing the ball as well. It remains to be seen if the reacquired Deion Branch can pick up where he left off four years ago and become Brady’s go-to receiver.
2. Ray Rice Against Patriots’ Defensive Backs
That may seem like a type-o, but it’s not. Normally you’d expect a defense’s front seven to be responsible for stopping the run. While that’s typically the case, it’s the job of the defensive backs to bail the front seven out if a running back gets to the second level. Ray Rice rushed for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns against New England in the first round of the playoffs last season. He started out by taking his first hand-off 83 yards for a score. Willis McGahee added 62 yards and a score of his own in the game.
One of the Patriots biggest problems against the run in that game was poor tackling by their cornerbacks and safeties. If Rice is able to get through the front seven on Sunday, it will be up to the defensive backfield to stop him from breaking a huge run. That’s something they failed to do in January and it could be the difference in the game on Sunday.
3. Ravens’ Front Seven Against the Patriots’ O-Line
Brady was sacked three times the last time the Patriots and Ravens met. It was the hardest beating No. 12 had taken in a game since the dream of 19-0 came crashing down in Super Bowl 42. Brady’s only been sacked five times in four games this season. His offensive line has done an excellent job of keeping him off the ground, and they’ll have to continue that success in order to keep their defense off the field. The Ravens forced Brady into throwing three picks in the playoff game last year and much of that is owed to their front seven getting in his face on almost every play. If Baltimore can get that type of pressure on the quarterback again, it will be a long day for the Patriots.
Ray Rice’s knee was a concern until he rushed for 133 yards and two scores in a win over Denver last weekend. He’s obviously good to go. The biggest missing piece for Baltimore against New England will be Ed Reed. Reed has been out with a hip injury all season and that has to please Tom Brady. The Ravens safety has always been a nightmare for Brady and the Pats with his ability to break on the ball at a moment’s notice. Although Baltimore’s defense has played well in his absence, they could really miss him in this one.
The Patriots are relatively healthy coming off the bye week with the exception of one player — Fred Taylor. Taylor is battling a toe injury — which appears to be turf toe — and he’s been ruled out once again for this game. Turf toe is one of those mystery injuries that doesn’t really have a set timetable for recovery, so New England will need the solid play of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to continue as long as Taylor remains unable to suit up.
The Patriots’ pass defense still stinks until further notice. They rank 28th in the NFL in passing yardage allowed so obviously Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, and even T.J. Houshmandzadeh are great plays this week. Ray Rice is another must-start for obvious reasons, one of which being he went off on New England the last time these two teams squared off. Any significant Raven fantasy option should be in your lineup this weekend.
There isn’t a single Patriots player that I would say you have to start this week on your fantasy team. The Ravens defense ranks 10th against the run and 2nd against the pass. Considering the Patriots are a pass-first offense, that isn’t good news for fantasy owners. Wes Welker is probably the only safe play at WR, with Deion Branch just joining the team this week. Brandon Tate is a sleeper this week with no Randy Moss and it might be worth taking a chance on him if you don’t have another option, especially with the way he’s been returning kicks. I can’t imagine you’d have a better option than Brady, but the match-up is not a good one at all. Green-Ellis will get the bulk of the carries with Taylor out again, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be successful.
The winner of this game will probably be considered one of the teams to beat in the AFC, next to the Jets. The Ravens have played exceptionally well on defense. Joe Flacco has struggled a bit thus far, but Baltimore’s offense can be dangerous and certainly has big play ability. A Patriots offense that no longer features Randy Moss makes this game as tough to predict as any all year. There’s really no way of knowing how successful they can be moving the ball. That being said, I’m giving the Pats the edge in a close game because they’re at home and have had an extra week to prepare.