Ravens run offense vs. Patriots run defense: Ray Rice is coming off his best game of the season, producing 133 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the Denver Broncos. He is seeking the first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games of his 38-game NFL career. Rice owned the Patriots last season with two 100-yard rushing games (totaling 262 yards on the ground). New England has the 20th-ranked run defense, giving up 113 yards per game. The Patriots haven't allowed a running back to break 80 yards in a game, but they have a suspect front seven. Teams have been establishing the run by taking out New England's top player up front, nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
Ravens pass offense vs. Patriots pass defense: New England has given up big plays and created some of its own. The Patriots have allowed nine passing touchdowns, which is the fifth-most in the NFL. They have made seven interceptions (returning two for interceptions), which is tied for fifth-most in the league. Because of the Patriots' bye week, coach Bill Belichick will probably install different coverages designed to confuse Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens will look to attack rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who likely will cover Anquan Boldin. Derrick Mason has scored a touchdown in his past two regular-season games against New England. All six of Flacco's interceptions have come on the road this season. The Ravens' offensive line has given up just two sacks the past three games.
Patriots run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Starting running back Fred Taylor is sidelined for the second straight game with a toe injury. The Patriots have relied on the run this season more than they've done in the past. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. The Ravens' run defense has gotten back on track the past two games. After giving up 173 yards rushing to the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens limited the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos to a combined 123 yards. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) is questionable but is expected to start.
Patriots pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: This marks the biggest test for the NFL's second-ranked pass defense. Tom Brady is the league's top-ranked passer (109.0), throwing nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His accuracy to hit receivers in the hands from 30 yards separates him from most quarterbacks. This is the first game for the Patriots since they traded Randy Moss, who scored three touchdowns but ranked fourth on the team with nine catches. His absence will force the Patriots to focus on intermediate routes with wide receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman. Welker didn't play in the playoff game with the Ravens last season because he was injured. Terrell Suggs has forced Brady to fumble in each of the past two meetings. This matches the NFL's No. 1 third-down defense (26.6 percent) against the league's top third-down offense (55.3 percent).
Special teams: The Patriots dominated so much in this area their last game that it led to the firing of Miami's special teams coach. New England scored three touchdowns by special teams — a kickoff return, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal. Tate has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first five games. But the Ravens' Billy Cundiff, who is tied for the NFL lead with 11 touchbacks, could negate Tate by placing kicks deep inside the end zone. Cundiff has made 5 of 7 field-goal attempts, and Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has converted 4 of 7. The Ravens could make changes on both their kickoff (Josh Wilson or David Reed) and punt return teams (Tom Zbikowski or Chris Carr) in order to create a spark.
Intangibles: The Patriots are looking to avenge a 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens nine months ago. That was a rare home defeat for Brady, who has won 22 consecutive regular-season starts at Gillette Stadium. He is four shy from the NFL record, which was set by Brett Favre (1995-98). Brady has dominated the AFC North with a 13-1 mark against the division. The Patriots also have won their past seven games following a regular-season bye. In the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens have won 13 road games (including playoffs), which is the second-most in the NFL during that two-plus year span.
Prediction: The Ravens clearly have the better team. But the Patriots have Belichick, who's had two weeks to dissect a team that handed him his most embarrassing playoff loss. That's too much for the Ravens to overcome in Foxborough.
NEW ENGLAND, 20-16