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Scouting report: Ravens vs. Patriots

Baltimore Sun

Ravens run offense vs. Patriots run defense: Ray Rice had one of his four 100-yard games of the season against the Patriots on Oct. 4. He gashed them for 103 yards on 11 carries, which included a 50-yard gain. Strangely enough, New England is 3-1 this season when allowing a 100-yard rusher. The only loss came last Sunday, when Houston Texans rookie Arian Foster ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns against a Patriots defense missing its top two linemen (Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren). Both will return against the Ravens. Backup running back Willis McGahee ran for a career-high 167 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday in helping the Ravens clinch a playoff berth. Edge: RAVENS

Ravens pass offense vs. Patriots pass defense: Joe Flacco is coming off a season-low 102 passing yards. He also didn't throw a touchdown for the first time in six games. In last year's playoffs, Flacco averaged 145.6 passing yards, throwing for one touchdown and three interceptions. In the last meeting at New England, wide receiver Derrick Mason had six catches in the opening series and just one the rest of the game. Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden and safety Brandon Meriweather top the team with five interceptions each. New England's biggest weakness has been its pass rush. The Ravens have allowed four sacks in each of the past two games. Edge: EVEN

Patriots run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Ravens allowed the fewest yards per carry (3.4) in the NFL. The run defense has been stifling the past two games. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders combined to rush for 99 yards on 43 attempts against the Ravens, a 2.3-yard average. The Ravens have given up one rushing touchdown in their past five games. The Patriots have relied on the run more than they have in previous seasons. Leading rusher Laurence Maroney has seen his rushing total drop each of the past three games. Fred Taylor scored two touchdowns in the regular-season finale. Edge: RAVENS

Patriots pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: The Ravens are feeling no sympathy for the Patriots' losing wide receiver Wes Welker to a knee injury. With two starting cornerbacks out (Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb), the Ravens are asking Domonique Foxworth, Chris Carr and Frank Walker to slow down the NFL's third-ranked passing attack. Even without Welker, Tom Brady still can throw to Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Ben Watson and Sam Aiken. In three games against the Ravens, Brady has thrown for three touchdowns and one interception. Free safety Ed Reed has five interceptions in five playoff games. The Ravens' Terrell Suggs beat left tackle Matt Light the last time and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown. Edge: PATRIOTS

Special teams: The Ravens have the edge in nearly every phase, especially with Welker out as New England's punt returner. The Ravens' coverage teams both rank in the top 10. New kickoff returner Jalen Parmele has averaged 31.4 yards the past two games. The Patriots are expected to replace Welker with Kevin Faulk, who has averaged a less-than-stellar 6.2 yards on punt returns. New England does have an advantage in the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski has converted 14 of his past 16 field-goal attempts (87.5 percent). The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has missed three of his past six tries, primarily because of the struggles of long snapper Matt Katula. Edge: RAVENS

Intangibles: The Ravens have lost five straight games against quarterbacks ranked in the top 10 (Brady, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning). Brady and coach Bill Belichick have never lost a home playoff game together, going 8-0 at New England. In fact, the Patriots have won 24 of their past 29 games played Dec. 25 or later during Belichick's tenure in New England. The Ravens have never beaten the Patriots, losing all five meetings. This season, the Ravens have been able to compete against the best teams, but they have failed to consistently beat them. Their record against this year's playoff field is 1-6. The Ravens have a habit of making critical mistakes late in intense games this season. Edge: PATRIOTS

Prediction: This season's disturbing trend for the Ravens is that they can't beat the top quarterbacks. When it comes to the playoffs, no one is better than Brady. This is a bad first-round matchup for the Ravens. PATRIOTS, 31-17

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