In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don’t hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
The Ravens get a chance for some regular-season revenge on Sunday night against the New England Patriots, the team that beat them in January’s AFC championship game. But for whatever reason, this rivalry game doesn’t seem to have its usual juice. Maybe it’s because Terrell Suggs is injured and therefore quiet. Maybe it’s because Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans are gone. Or maybe it’s because both teams are coming off losses.
Still, despite the lack of buzzing coming into Sunday night, you can count on the energy and emotion ramping up as soon as the lights come on at M&T; Bank Stadium, where the Ravens haven’t lost in nearly two years. The Ravens defense, which is much more dangerous at home, has caused problems for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the past. And the offense will be able to run the no-huddle more efficiently in their own house.
So what predictions am I willing to make this week? Well, I know this blog feature is called “Four Ravens predictions sure to go wrong,” but I should probably get one or two right every once in a while. I struck out last week, so I’m going to tone down my predictions for Ravens-Patriots to hopefully build my confidence up.
1. RAY RICE WILL RECEIVE AT LEAST 18 CARRIES
When Ray Rice carried the ball just 10 times in the blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, most were willing to overlook it. But after the offense strayed from the Pro Bowl running back in critical moments during a one-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the plan of attack had to be questioned. After all, Rice has yet to receive a carry on third (and fourth) down this season. Coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said this week that Rice, who had 16 carries against the Eagles, will be a big part of what they do going forward, and they can -- and I think they will -- make that clear Sunday night on national television.
2. COURTNEY UPSHAW STARTS AND PLAYS WELL
With Paul Kruger sidelined with a back injury last weekend, Courtney Upshaw, a second-round pick in April’s draft, started in his place at outside linebacker and made six tackles as the Ravens did a good job bottling up Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. Kruger returned to practice this week, so you have to figure he is healthy enough to play against the Patriots. But he struggled in the season opener, so why not go with the hot hand in Upshaw? I can see Upshaw and Albert McClellan starting again at outside linebacker, with Kruger coming in off the bench as a situational pass rusher -- a role that might suit Kruger, a 2009 second-round pick, best.
3. VINCE WILFORK WILL BE A HANDFUL (AGAIN)
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was too much for the Ravens offensive line to handle in the loss in the AFC championship game. Wilfork bullied his way to a sack and five quarterback hurries. Ravens center Matt Birk, in particular, had issues matching Wilfork’s size and strength. Birk is back at center for the Ravens, and he will line up between Ramon Harewood, who has started two NFL games, and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda. The pressure is on that trio of interior linemen to keep Wilfork away from quarterback Joe Flacco, but they won’t pitch a shutout. I see Wilfork getting a sack or two and saying hello to Flacco on a few other plays.
4. THE HOME WINNING STEAK COMES TO A HALT
The Ravens went undefeated at M&T; Bank Stadium last season and their home winning streak is at 12 games, dating back to a 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 5, 2010, which, coincidently, was also a Sunday night game. The Ravens always get amped up for primetime games like these (see Bart Scott throwing that yellow flag into the crowd the last time the Patriots came to town). But it’s impossible to ignore the Ravens surrendering nearly 500 yards to Michael Vick and the Eagles last week. I think the offense will play well, but without a steady pass rush to harass Brady, I see the Patriots winning in a tight, relatively high-scoring affair.