BOSTON (CBS) — Monday morning. Thirty-six hours.
That’s the precise moment and amount of time it took for the discussion of the upcoming Patriots-Ravens playoff matchup to officially fly off the rails.
A casual stroll up and down the radio dial on Monday morning proved just about every station — sports, soft rock and everywhere in between — worried about the Baltimore Ravens’ impending trip to Foxboro.
“They won here two years ago.”
“That D line is going to eat Brady alive.”
“The Ravens aren’t intimidated by the Patriots.”
“This is the team the Patriots did NOT want to face.”
Please — stop!
Much of these beliefs are rooted in the recent playoff history between the Patriots and Ravens. You know, the Ravens team that probably should have won the AFC Championship Game in the 2011 playoffs (thanks, Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff!) and the Ravens team that did win the AFCCG the following season. And of course, nobody will ever forget the Ravens’ smushing of the Patriots in 2009, when Ray Rice scored on the first play from scrimmage and the game was over as soon as it began.
Technically, the Ravens are still the same Ravens, in the sense that their uniforms haven’t changed and they still play their home games in Baltimore. But so much has changed since January 2013 that there’s very little left to compare.
When the Ravens beat the Patriots in Foxboro in January 2013, these were some of their best players:
The Patriots, without Rob Gronkowski, relied entirely on:
The common thread among those 10 players is that none of them will play a role in this weekend’s game. These teams have moved on since that year, and they’ve gone in different directions.
After winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens dropped to being a .500 team last year. The single most forgotten tidbit in this whole Ravens-Patriots saga is their meeting last December, when the Patriots won 41-7. In Baltimore.
The Patriots’ best players that night? LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kyle Arrington. They’ll all be playing this weekend for New England.
Putting it simply, this year’s Ravens team is not very good. They finished 10-6 on the strength of being matched up against the two weakest divisions in football — the south divisions of both conferences. I’m sorry, but compiling victories against the Jaguars, Buccaneers, Falcons and Titans doesn’t do much for me. It did allow the Ravens to pad their stats and their point differential, but here’s how they fared against teams that were actually good (“good” in this case meaning above .500):
vs. Cincinnati, L, 23-16
vs. Pittsburgh, W, 26-6
@ Indianapolis, L, 20-13
@ Cincinnati, L, 27-24
@ Pittsburgh, L, 43-23
vs. San Diego, L, 34-33
@ Houston, L, 25-13
In total, that’s a 1-6 record, 0-4 on the road. They were outscored by 30 points against these “good” teams, and that term might be a stretch. The Chargers and Texans would have been .500 teams if not for their fortunate meetings with the Ravens.
The Patriots, by contrast, fared much better against teams that weren’t the dregs of the league:
@ Kansas City, L, 41-14
vs. Cincinnati, W, 43-17
@ Buffalo, W, 37-22
vs. Denver, W, 43-21
@ Indianapolis, W, 42-20
vs. Detroit, W, 34-9
@ Green Bay, L, 26-21
@ San Diego, W, 23-14
vs. Buffalo, L, 17-9
That’s a much deeper resume against better teams, and at 6-3, it’s a much better record. And at plus-79, it’s a significantly better point differential.
Any way you slice it, the Patriots are a better football team than the Ravens.
Yes, the Ravens are coming off a postseason road win. But it came against the Steelers when they were lacking Le’Veon Bell. For some context of what that absence means, there’s this: The Steelers ran 1,035 plays. The ball was either handed or thrown to Bell on 395 of them. That’s nearly 40 percent of the offense, wiped away for the biggest game of the year with no time to prepare. Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger found zero solutions to the absence, and it turned out that Ben Tate is no Le’Veon Bell.
The Ravens did play a solid game in Pittsburgh, but it was hardly a transcendent performance. Offensively, Steve Smith and Owen Daniels were the only standouts. While Daniels will likely get his fair of catches on Saturday afternoon (big-bodied tight ends always seem to have career days against the Patriots, usually in losing efforts), it’s safe to assume that Darrelle Revis and/or Brandon Browner can handle their business against the 35-year-old Smith.
Naturally, none of this is to say that the Patriots are definitely going to win this game. In the world of the NFL, it would be a foolhardy endeavor to make such a statement. It is, as always, an “any given Sunday” — or Saturday — league, and a whole host of events could occur to prematurely end the Patriots’ season. The 2010 loss to the Jets cemented that reality in New England.
Yet if the Patriots lose this weekend, it will have nothing to do with the Ravens. It will have nothing to do with John Harbaugh’s squad “not being intimidated” at Gillette. It’ll have nothing to do with previous playoff wins or losses, and it will have nothing to do with what Ray Rice and Ray Lewis did many moons ago. If the Patriots lose, they will likely have beaten themselves.
Fear the Ravens? Nevermore.
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