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For the fourth time since 2009, the Baltimore Ravens will travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the New England Patriots in the playoffs. Baltimore has won two of the previous three matchups. Tom Brady is 11-3 at home during the playoffs, but two of those three losses have come at the hands of the Ravens. The leaders on both teams have stayed the same for the most part, and the fierce rivalry has only gotten more intense.

The first time these two teams played one another, the Ravens dominated from start to finish. They jumped out to a 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The star of the game was Ravens running back Ray Rice. He rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Brady committed four turnovers in what may argue was his worst playoff performance ever. This was New England’s first home playoff loss in the Tom Brady era.

The next time these two teams met was in 2012 with the chance to play in the Super Bowl on the line. It was a hard-hitting, tough fought game that was close the whole way. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff trotted out to field with a chance to tie the game with a 32-yard field goal, with only eleven seconds left on the clock. He missed the kick and the Patriots advanced. Following the game, Cundiff received death threats, hate mail, and then was cut by the team.

The Ravens and Patriots met for a third time in 2013. By the end of the first half, New England was ahead 13-7 and looked to be in the driver’s seat. But the second half was entirely different. Baltimore scored 21 points unanswered in the third and fourth quarters. Joe Flacco played very well and completely outperformed his counterpart. He finished the game with 235 passing yards and three touchdowns. The victory set up for head coach John Harbaugh to face off against his younger brother Jim, the coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Like the other three playoff games between these teams, this one will be a hard fought battle on the field and on the sidelines. Two of the best coaches in the league will be standing on opposite sides of the field. Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick is the longest tenured coach in the league. Since he got the coaching job in 2000, he has accumulated an amazing record of 175-65 for a win percentage of .729. His post-season record is just as respectable, 18-8, a win percentage of .692. In Belichick’s 15 seasons, the team finished below .500 once. During that time period, they’ve had ten or more wins thirteen times.

Lining up on the other side of the field is John Harbaugh. He has coached for Ravens for the past seven seasons. He had led Baltimore to the playoffs in all but one year and they’ve had a minimum of eight wins each season. His team has won 72 games in comparison to only 40 losses, a win percentage of .643. In the playoffs, the Ravens are 10-4, a win percentage of .714. Between these two coaches, they have four Super Bowl victories. The other six coaches in the playoffs combined have only won two rings.

 

Arguably the best quarterback this generation, if not ever, is Tom Brady. He has had an illustrious career and he continues to add to his resume. Brady has won three Super Bowls, more than any other active quarterback. But the last time he hoisted up the Lombardi Trophy was a decade ago. Brady’s stats are pretty similar year after year, but it’s ended in disappointment every time since 2004. The last time Brady led the Pats to a Super Bowl victory, only one of the other seven quarterbacks in the playoffs now was in the league back then. It’s been a while since the Pats have finished a season the way they’d like. Since 2004, Brady’s playoff record is 9-8. That doesn’t sound like the Tom Brady everyone knows and admires, but all he needs is 3 wins in a row and he’ll gain another ring.

Tom Brady is squaring off one of the best postseason quarterbacks in Joe Flacco. When naming the top QBs in the league, Flacco’s name is never mentioned. His stats are mediocre and bland. But when Flacco takes the field in January, magic happens. He is 10-4 in the playoffs. The Ravens, led by the University of Delaware signal caller, has had abnormal success away from M&T Bank Stadium. His seven playoff wins in away games are the most in history and two of them have come in New England. Flacco is a quarterback who steps up when the playoffs start. He’s thrown for multiple touchdown passes in seven straight postseason games, which is tied for the longest streak ever. Will he break that record this weekend?

 

The X factor for the Patriots offense is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is a beast. Linebackers don’t have the speed to keep up with him and safeties/corners don’t have the size to tackle him. No defense has been able to limit him. He has totaled either seventies yards or a touchdown in the team’s last eight games. Gronk has seen double digit targets in four of his last five games and there’s no reason he won’t again. Rob Gronkowski has 12 touchdown receptions this season, good for third in the league, and the highest total by a tight end. Although the Ravens defense is good, they won’t stop Gronk. Baltimore may shut down the run, which they did against Pittsburgh, they may shut down different receivers, but it’d take significant game planning to truly shut down the best tight end in the league.

The Ravens X factor will be running back Justin Forsett. If the team has any hope to win, he needs to play well. He is in the midst of the best season of his career. Baltimore signed Forsett to fill the void Ray Rice left, and he’s more than exceeded expectations. Forsett has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, his best total by far. He’s rushed for over 90 yards in six games this season. The Ravens are 5-1 in those games. If Forsett is unable to run the ball well, Baltimore is doomed. The Patriots have one of the best secondaries, so it’d be very difficult for Flacco to throw the ball if the run is unsuccessful.

My prediction: This will be a close game. Flacco and Brady will both have good games. Flacco will throw for 250 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Tom Brady will throw for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both of those touchdown passes will go to Gronk, who will exceed 120 receiving yards. The final score will be 27-20.

 

Football