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Game 15 preview: Patriots at Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  December 22, 2013 05:00 AM

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The Patriots have an opportunity to exorcise some demons in Baltimore, facing a team that has bounced them from the playoffs two of the last four years and has taken two of the last three games in this rivalry.

Coming off a 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots can still clinch the AFC East with a win against the Ravens. But a loss is not a death blow. With a little help, particularly a Cincinnati loss to Minnesota, the Patriots can finally lock up a playoff spot.

There's also the possibility of getting a first-round bye with a win and some help. But the Patriots (10-4) have to go through a Ravens (8-6) team that has won four straight games, including a compelling 18-16 victory over the Detroit Lions last week on a game-winning 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

The Ravens defense, the heart of the Ravens, has shown remarkable resolve despite notable departures from last season's Super Bowl team. Top rookie Matt Elam (61 tackles, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries) has taken over the free safety position and Daryl Smith has taken over the middle linebacker position (107 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 interceptions) in place of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. They've helped this team become the seventh ranked run defense (102.4 yards allowed per game) and 13th ranked pass defense (231.6 yards allowed per game). They've improved so much over the course of the season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said they appeared to be in championship form.

"They look like the championship team that they are," he said. "It will be a big challenge for us down there in Baltimore. [They're] playing well, they've made a lot of key plays at the end of the games when they needed to make them, on offense, defense, special teams -- whether it be kicks returned, stops, scores, moving the ball into field goal range -- whatever it happens to be. They've made a lot of consistent big plays and they're playing real well right now. It's a good football team. It will be a good test for us down there."

Elvis Dumervil, a key part of the Ravens' pass rushing attack, is questionable with an ankle injury. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is also questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury. But he's expected to play with a brace over his knee.

The Patriots will have to go without rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce, who suffered an ankle injury last week against the Dolphins. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) is questionable to play. Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) was ruled out Saturday.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 10-4; Ravens 8-6.

TV, radio: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Sports USA (Larry Kahn, Ross Tucker, Troy West).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injury reports.

Patriots offense: WR Aaron Dobson, LT Logan Mankins, LG Josh Kline, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Julian Edelman, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Danny Amendola.

Patriots defense: LE Rob Ninkovich, DT Sealver Siliga, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, LB Jamie Collins, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Ravens offense: WR Torrey Smith, WR Jacoby Jones, LT Eugene Monroe, LG A.Q. Shipley, C Gino Gradkowski, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher, TE Dennis Pitta, QB Joe Flacco, FB Vonta Leach, RB Ray Rice.

Ravens defense: DT Arthur Jones, NT Haloti Ngati, DE Chris Canty, OLB Terrell Suggs, WLB Jameel McClain, MLB Daryl Smith, SLB Courtney Upshaw, LCB Lardarius Webb, SS James Ihedigbo, FS Matt Elam, RCB Jimmy Smith.

Get linked

- Erik Frenz scouts the Ravens in Going Deep.

- My Week 16 NFL picks.

- Follow the game and comment on the action in our live blog.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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