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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu Dec 03 | 04:00 PM - 11:59 PM

Game Matchups: Hard to imagine any defense containing Brady in this atmosphere

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


This is an area of concern for New England, not just because of the uncertainty at running back, but because of the inconsistency of the offensive line. The return of LeGarrette Blount late in the season paid occasional dividends, but Blount is not an every-down back. Neither is Jonas Gray, whose role has been sporadic since his breakthrough performance against Indianapolis. The Patriots appear ready to enter the postseason with a committee approach, which is a dangerous game plan against a Baltimore defense that finished fourth in run defense this season and was boosted by the return of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in last week's win at Pittsburgh. Establishing the run will be a tall task for New England. ADVANTAGE: RAVENS

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WHEN THE RAVENS RUN


The unexpected rise of Justin Forsett, whose career was on life support in March, gives Baltimore a power running attack similar to what they had before Ray Rice was suspended for the season. Forsett finished fifth in the league in rushing despite fewer attempts than almost everyone else in the top 10. With Bernard Pierce as the change-of-pace/goal-line back, the Ravens are a threat on any down and distance. New England's defense has been susceptible against the run at times, most notably against the Jets in mid-October, but lately the performance in that department has been much better. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork could be the X-factor, but enough teams have proven they can run on this defense and the Ravens averaged more than 120 rushing yards per game this season. ADVANTAGE: RAVENS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


This has the potential to be a toss-up depending on which New England offense shows up. The Patriots will likely try to neutralize the effectiveness of Baltimore's pass rush and give their own offensive line a break by switching in and out of their no-huddle/up-tempo offense. This game plan worked to some extent against the Jets and can work against a Ravens team with a similar style of spin-the-dial pass rushes. When they're at their best, the Patriots can move the ball against any defense and while this Baltimore team still has the toughness and confidence to win in Foxborough, there are holes in the secondary. With a healthy Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski it's hard to imagine any defense containing Tom Brady in this atmosphere. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE RAVENS PASS


Even though Ravens head coach John Harbaugh referred to Joe Flacco as the "best quarterback in the world" following Baltimore's win at Pittsburgh, the jury is still out on whether or not this is the same Flacco who led the team on an improbable Super Bowl run two years ago. Flacco had his ups and downs this year, but the addition of ex-Panther Steve Smith Sr. gave the Ravens a weapon they never had during that title run. The Patriots get the edge based on their depth in the secondary with Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. The key now is having a healthy Kyle Arrington as the third cornerback to help defend the slot. The Ravens are banged up along the offensive line, so New England's pass rush needs to be productive. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


It would come as no surprise if the Patriots make a big play in the kicking game that winds up being the turning point. The special teams came up big this year, blocking four field goals and one punt with two of them resulting in touchdowns. Two of the other blocks helped preserve wins against the New York Jets. The Patriots have also been solid of late in the return game with Danny Amendola filling in for incumbent return man Julian Edelman, not to mention the presence of unheralded punter Ryan Allen, whose booming kicks have helped swing the pendulum in the field position battle throughout the season. Baltimore's special teams have been every bit as impressive, however, with Justin Tucker one of the best kickers in football and the ever-dangerous Jacoby Jones in the return game. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


Under most circumstances, being the No. 1 seed and playing at home, where you've had more wins than any other NFL team over the past decade, would make this an open and shut case, but the Ravens have showed they have no fear coming to Foxborough as the underdog in a playoff game. This will be the fourth time these two teams play one another in the postseason since 2009. Baltimore has won twice. The one game New England won came courtesy of a missed field goal in the closing seconds. This year's team appears to be much tougher mentally and physically than the teams that lost to both the Ravens and Jets at home in the playoffs. In the end, it's almost a toss-up, but the Patriots are still the best until someone beats them. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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