RB: Ray Rice vs. Patriots linebackers
Rice is as good a running back as there is in the NFL and the Patriots will do their best to remember that he is as dangerous a threat catching the ball out of the backfield as he is between the tackles. In addition to the 1,143 yards rushing he had this season (131 last week), he caught 61 passes for 478 yards and a touchdown.
Against the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs, he failed to record a catch for only the second time this season. You can expect him to bounce back big, especially given the attention the Patriots secondary will be giving to coverage of receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, as well as tight end Dennis Pitta.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo has the speed to keep up with Rice, but there's a serious mismatch if the running back is one-on-one with Brandon Spikes or Dont'a Hightower. Rice's small stature gives him cover when running inside, but he also uses his blocking well to disguise which lanes he takes while running. Fullback Vonta Leach, a Pro Bowl player, does an excellent job of getting right into the chest or hands of linebackers to block them out of plays and provide holes.