Neil Harvey previews Sunday night's second live NFL game, and our man fancies the Ravens to secure yet another low-scoring win in front of their own fans...
"But at home the Ravens are an impressive 6-1. And of those six vicories, the majority were achieved by three points or less. So I suggest taking the big price available on Baltimore to snatch yet another close win."
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens
Live on Sky Sports 2
Thanks to last Monday's surprise win in Detroit, the Baltimore Ravens have moved to 8-6 in the AFC North and are now genuine contenders for one of those two AFC wildcard positions.
I said quite categorically at the start of the season, that the Ravens were not good enough to retain their Superbowl title. And they aren't. But that doesn't mean they're not making a really decent fist of this season, and showing a lot of the same qualities that helped them lift pro-football's holy grail back in February.
The Ravens lost too many key defensive players in the post-season to have any chance of finishing top of the pile again. But many of the good things about the team are still there. First and foremost of those, is Joe Flacco. Not an exciting quarterback. But a very good one. The sort who doesn't catch the eye, but who does so many things right,and so very few wrong, that he can quietly destroy opponents without them even realising it's happening. His decision-making, awareness in the pocket, and accuracy of throw are enough to have any opponent worried.
What Flacco doesn't have though, is an array of receivers to choose from. So you can expect New England to focus their defensive efforts almost entirely on Jacoby Jones. But the bigger problem is that Baltimore's offensive line isn't as dominant as it was last season. For me that was the element that turned them into champions. But without that level of protection, Flacco has found himself under greater pressure while on the ball.
And this is where New England can find success. Ranked ninth in the NFL for producing sacks (40), they can put enough heat on Flacco to cause him to make uncharacteristic mistakes. Only three teams, a motley crew of the Jets, Jaguars and Bills, have suffered more sacks of their quaterback than Baltimore. So that suggests Flacco could spend an inordinate amount of time on the seat of his pants on Sunday.
The Ravens will hope to exploit New England's inability to stop the run, for which they rank next to last in the league. But the truth is, Baltimore are no longer the running force they once were.
Ray Rice has been a shadow of his previous self this year, averaging just three yards per carry. And as a result, the Ravens are close to having the worst running offense in the NFL. Baltimore's losses to Chicago and Buffalo, both of whom are useless at stopping the run, illustrate how New England's weakness could in fact quite easily go unpunished.
But Baltimore might not be the only ones who find themselves struggling to move the ball. During last week's defeat to Miami, New England, and especially Shane Vereen, came up empty-handed against the Dolphins' 20th ranked run-defense. So judging by that, they could find life much harder this week, against a Ravens run-defense that's rated number seven.
And New England shouldn't rely on Tom Brady to get them out of jail. Brady came up just short against the Dolphins last week, and goes up against superior a pass-defence this time time round. Of course the Patriots are without Rob Gronkowski. And no disrespect to Julian Edelman, but he is not number one receiver material.
All this leaves us looking at a close game, with not many touchdowns to go around. Bear in mind also, that when Baltimore lose, it's a usually by the margin of just a field goal.
But at home the Ravens are an impressive 6-1. And of those six vicories, the majority were achieved by three points or less. So I suggest taking the big price available on Baltimore to snatch yet another close win.
With the Patriots already looking good for the play-offs, they might not be able to match their opponents in terms of sheer desire. By contrast, the Ravens players will be foaming at the mouth to get another taste of play-off football. And for the brave, there are mouthwatering, but extremely good value, odds of 15.014/1 available on Baltimore needing overtime to get over the winning line.