The Ravens get a rare home game against the Patriots, and they’re going to need every advantage they can get. Tom Brady has always been a difficult foe for the Ravens defense to defeat, and while his age is beginning to show in the form of a slight dip in offensive production, he and his team boast what may be the best defense of his career. The Ravens offense has been fantastic this season, and their defense seems to be coming together as well after a rough couple games in weeks 3 and 4. This is going to be a good game but will be a major challenge for the Ravens to win.
The Patriots defense has been phenomenal this season and could end up as one of the best defenses ever. Through their first 8 games, the Patriots have allowed only 7.6 points per game. Their pass defense has rivaled even the 2009 Jets, allowing only 3.9 yards per dropback so far. Their secondary is full of high-level starters, with Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, JC Jackson, and both McCourty twins allowing 5.4 yards per target or fewer. Tom Brady is beginning to show age, but his yards per attempt (including sacks) still ranks 14th and his interception rate skill ranks 6th. He’s still turning in some fairly strong play despite serious question marks at the offensive skill positions.
The one true weakness for this team, as alluded to earlier, is its weapons. Behind Julian Edelman, their next 2 receivers (Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers) combine for only 459 yards this season. This lack of weapons is showing in Brady’s production. Their offense is usually near the top of the league, but this season they only rank 13th in points per possession. Their run defense is also fairly average (4.6 yards per carry,) and while run defense is of negligible importance in most games, it is important against the Ravens. The Patriots front 7 will likely have to shift focus from pass rush to containing the run game, and leave it to their league-best secondary to hold things down.
Key Matchup: Offense
Lamar Jackson vs Bill Belechick: The deciding matchup between the Ravens offense and Patriots defense will be how well Bill Belechick gameplans for Lamar Jackson. Most coaches and defensive coordinators have had no idea how to limit him, as Jackson scrambled for 3rd down conversion after 3rd down conversion. Pete Carroll thought all-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner could spy on him, but Lamar proved too fast for him or any other linebacker. In fact, the only reason the Seahawks linebackers didn’t get torched in the passing game as well is because Mark Andrews kept getting wide open only to drop the pass. Belechick, however, is not most coaches. He is well known for coming up with the perfect gameplan to take away the opponent’s main weapon. I expect him to use a safety if he decides to spy Jackson, and to use a few more zone looks.
Key Matchup: Defense
Marlon Humphrey vs Julian Edelman: All of a sudden, the Patriots find themselves in a position where Julian Edelman is their only reliable receiver. Aside from Edelman, the Patriots don’t have a single receiver or tight end that has averaged even 50 yards per game. This means that if Marlon Humphrey can win the matchup against Edelman, Brady and the Patriots offense will be greatly slowed down. With how quick Edelman is, I still expect him to have a couple catches against Humphrey, but the Ravens have the edge in this matchup overall.
Betting Line and Prediction
The Ravens are 6 ½ point underdogs against the Patriots according to the Vegas Insider consensus. That’s accurate for a matchup that features the best team in the NFL with a defense on a historic pace. The Patriots defense has avoided any matchups against a QB playing nearly as well as Lamar Jackson, but you can still count on Bill Belechick to come prepared with a better gameplan to limit Jackson than the other coaches the Ravens have faced. Ultimately, I see the Ravens coming up short here, like they did against KC. The Patriots will play just well enough to win. Patriots 23, Ravens 17.