New England Patriots (10-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-6) 12/22- 4:25PM EST
Line: BAL -2.5
The defending Super Bowl champions have played themselves back into playoff contention after many thought they were dead in the water just a month ago.
The Ravens have rattled off four straight wins and now control their fate in the AFC North and can clinch a postseason berth for the six straight season with a little help from the league.
For the visiting New England Patriots, the formula is a lot easier… beat the Ravens and win the AFC East title for a fifth straight year.
Baltimore (8-6) will be in search of their fifth straight win and third in a row over the Patriots, whom they beat in the regular-season last year and in the AFC championship.
“We’re playing our best football right now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re going to have to continue to improve with what we have in front of us down the stretch.”
The Ravens offense sputtered once again in last Monday night’s win at Detroit 18-16, but thanks to Justin Tucker’s leg, he connected on six field goals to bail out the offense including the game winner from 61 yards away in the final minute to set a franchise record.
Tucker has made 33 straight field goals dating back to a Week 2 miss at Cleveland and owns the NFL’s longest streak since Matt Stover made 36 in a row for the Ravens from 2005-06.
“What can you say about Justin Tucker?” Harbaugh said. “When we got the ball here, I think at the 45-yard line, I said, ‘Hey, are we kicking this?’ .. He said, ‘I got it.”
New England (10-4) will try to earn the AFC East title once again after failing last week in a 24-20 defeat to Miami in which the offense couldn’t punch it in on four plays from the Dolphins 19 yard line with 27 seconds left.
“We didn’t do a good job in the red area, and didn’t do a good job finishing drives,” Tom Brady said. “We came up on the short end of the stick. It wasn’t a good day. Just couldn’t make enough plays.”
Brady will have to rely on heavily on slot receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola with tight end Rob Gronkowski back on injured reserve with a torn ACL and MCL suffered on December 8.
Edelman and Amendola combined for 23 catches for 270 yards in last week’s loss. Edelman’s 89 receptions ranks fifth in the league and has helped sparked a passing game over the last six weeks where Brady leads the NFL with 2,225 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions in that span since November 3.
While the Patriots are an undefeated 7-0 at home, they have lost four of their last five on the road and with their three road wins against the likes of Buffalo, Atlanta and Houston—all last place teams with a combined 11-31 record, they understand the importance of beating a quality team on the road come Sunday.
“They’re playing better football now then they were in the beginning of the season,” New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.
With the Ravens taking care of the ball turning it over only four times during the winning streak and a defense that has not allowed more than 26 points since a Week 1 49-27 loss at Denver, the oddsmakers have made them a (minus -2.5) point favorite at home. With a slim line such as that, it may move, so get the latest spread on the game up until game time right here at Wonder Punter.
The Ravens have also figured out their pass protection for Joe Flacco, where he has been brought down a career-high 42 times, but only five of those sacks have come in the last three games.
The Patriots have not loss back-to-back games since Weeks 3 and 4 of the 2012 season, but Sunday will be a tough challenge for them to avoid losing two in a row again. This game will be a closely fought battle, but I will give the Ravens a slight edge due to home field and predict Baltimore getting it done to win their fifth straight.
By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter