FOXBOROUGH — Greetings from cool and sunny Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots will take on the always tough Baltimore Ravens in rematch of last season’s wild card matchup that saw the Ravens dismantle the Patriots early and often in 33-14 beatdown in January.
The big story line today is how Patriots QB Tom Brady will move the ball downfield without having the breakaway skills of wide receiver Randy Moss at his disposal. The Patriots are currently first in the NFL with an average of 32.8 points per game but face a Ravens team that is ranked third in the NFL in total defense, giving up just 14.4 points per game. Who stretches the field for New England today? Is Brandon Tate ready to take the next step as a wide receiver? Will Aaron Hernandez have more impact and get downfield more? Will Deion Branch and Brady rediscover their chemistry right away? How will Wes Welker be impacted by having no Moss?
We’ll have updates throughout in Extra Points from the Globe’s team of reporters. To get you ready for some football, here’s a quick preview:
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m.
Records: Patriots 3-1; Ravens 4-1
TV: WBZ-TV (Ch. 4); announcers: The CBS A-Team of Jim Nantz doing the play-by-play; Phil Simms providing color
Projected starting lineups (based on depth charts):
Keep Rice as a side dish: Ray Rice singlehandedly took the air out of Gillette Stadium in the Ravens’ wild card romp over the Patriots in January with his 83-yard TD run from scrimmage. If Rice becomes the main course for the Baltimore offense it could spell trouble for New England’s young defense that is still spotty in stopping the run. A knee injury that limited Rice this week in practice but he’ll be in the lineup today. Rice is up to 387 yards on 87 carries, with two TD’s this season after last week’s 133 yard breakout game against the Broncos.
Hello good bye: The Patriots have seven consecutive wins coming off the bye week. We’ll see if the extra week of preparation and home cooking continues to be a winning hand for Bill Belichick’s team.
Getting a Reed on the defense: Venerable Ravens FS Ed Reed (on the PUP list with an injured hip) may be back next week, but he won’t be on the field to wreak havoc with Tom Brady’s offense today. “I don’t ever want to play that guy,” Brady said this week. The Ravens secondary has had some trouble in the early going, so it will be interesting to see if Brady can take advantage of a backfield that is missing its leader.
Not your average Joe: Joe Flacco continues to improve as a quarterback in this league, currently ranked 10th in the NFL. While he’s not typically thought of as a difference maker in the Tom Brady mold, Flacco plays cool, calm, and collected and if his offensive line holds up, he should be able to have plenty of time to weigh his offensive options in the passing game today.
Revenge factor: We know the Patriots have been watching a lot of film from last year’s playoff loss to the Ravens. But how much impact will the memory of a game that happened nine months ago, with different faces on the field, have on today’s battle?
Officials: The referee this afternoon is Bill Leavy. The rest of his crew is umpire Darrell Jenkins, head linesman Mark Baltz, line judge Mark Perlman, field judge Jim Quirk, side judge Barry Anderson and back judge Keith Ferguson.