For the first time since Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to go and study the NFL rule book, the two rival franchises finally meet again on Monday night.
Forget about the New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, or Buffalo Bills. The Ravens have indeed been the most antagonistic rival for the New England Patriots over the past decade. Yes, the Broncos have faced them in just as many AFC title games, the Jets are always the harmless pest they make themselves out to be every year, and the Colts might have been regarded as rivals until the sparks of Deflategate and their tumble into irrelevancy.
But the Ravens are always there for a show. No matter what.
There’s been Ray Rice’s dash from scrimmage on the first play of the 2009 playoff. Billy Cundiff’s epic miss in the AFC Championship, just a hair more heartbreaking for Ravens fans than another “drop” by Wes Welker in the same contest a year later. But in the 2014 postseason, everything was ratcheted up a notch with the previously-legal formations that Bill Belichick presented to an overmatched Ravens staff, leading the Patriots on a comeback run that would eventually deliver them their fourth Super Bowl title.
It was the game that definitely defined a new era for the Patriots, harking back to a swagger that had showed only in spurts over the previous, title-less decade.
The NFL could really do itself some good with some regional re-alignment when it comes to the Ravens and Patriots. Let Buffalo or Miami take Baltimore’s spot in the AFC North. The league should welcome the Ravens to the AFC East just for the pleasure of pitting two teams and fan bases with an already-toxic bile forming between them to face twice a season. Heck, take a hint from Major League Baseball and create an unbalanced schedule for all we care. Give us the Ravens and Broncos twice a year and save the Dolphins for Cincinnati or some other place we don’t really care about.
These two teams don’t like each other. The fans don’t trust each other.
It’s the best rivalry in football that isn’t bred to us annually.
It should be.
This week’s picks
ESPN.com: Six out of nine pick the Patriots.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 27, Ravens 23. “The Ravens are playing well, but this is a tough challenge on a Monday night. Can Baltimore’s defense slow Tom Brady? No. But they will hang around. Joe Flacco played well last week, and he will here. But Brady takes it.”
CBS Sports staff: Seven out of eight pick Baltimore (New England -7).
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots with a 79 percent chance of winning.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Ravens 21. “The Ravens give the Patriots fits in New England in the postseason. During the regular season, the Pats know how to take care of their rivals from Baltimore.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Ravens 17. “The Patriots’ offense will slip without Rob Gronkowski, but I see New England’s defense doing a good job against Joe Flacco in a hard-fought and close game.”
MassLive staff: Four out of five pick New England.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Ravens 24. “New England and Baltimore have played some memorable games against each other in the playoffs, with the latter having the rare Foxborough breakthrough all the way to the Super Bowl. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco are the only duo not consistently flapped by coach-QB counterparts Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. This matchup goes to the Patriots, however. The Ravens will take away the power run, but that doesn’t matter, because Brady will spread the field with his wideouts and chuck at the visitors’ most exploitable weakness. On the other side, the Patriots will focus on containing the run early to contain Flacco late.”
David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Ravens 26. “With all the tasty divisional matchups this week, this is the only pairing of divisional leaders. It will also be the best test of who the Patriots are post-Gronk; the Ravens’ defense has gotten nasty in the last month. Neither coach is going to treat this like any old regular-season game. Unless … Bill Belichick, the chess master, decides to do exactly that. He makes games like this so hard to pick.”
Peter Schrager. Foxsports.com: Ravens 24, Patriots 19. “Alright, I’m convinced. Baltimore is for real. I had my doubts until I saw the Ravens absolutely smack around and destroy the Dolphins last week. I foolishly picked Miami to win that one. Monday night? I am really compelled to take Baltimore here. The Ravens have won multiple playoff games in Foxborough, Joe Flacco has gotten the best of Tom Brady in the past and Terrell Suggs would love nothing more than to notch a few more sacks of TB12. Baltimore is hot, is beginning to have that 2013 swagger and knows the time is now with the Steelers streaking. Nothing against New England; I just think the Ravens find a way to do what most deem impossible. They’ll win.”
Foxsports.com staff: Split.
Bryan Altman, CBS Sports: Ravens. “This is a whole lot of points to be giving a 7-5 division-leading team with the best defense in the NFL. I get it, it’s the Patriots, they command that kind of respect, but I think the Gronk-less Patriots will struggle here. Ravens pull the upset over the Patriots and expand their AFC North lead in the process, let’s say on a last-second Justin Tucker field goal.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Ravens. “It’s never a comfortable position to pick against the Patriots when they’re at home. But if any team can limit the Patriots offensively, it’s the Ravens. Watch the video of this pick Tom Brady threw in a tie game the last time Baltimore visited. Does that look like Tom Brady to you? Brady just sometimes struggles to be Brady when the Ravens come to town. Dating back to ’09 (John Harbaugh’s first trip to Foxboro as coach of the Ravens), the Patriots haven’t won a game at home vs. Baltimore by more than six points. They’ve also lost two games via blowout. So just take the points and don’t try to think about it too much. Now I’m off to search for an over-under on the length of this game. Ed Hochuli is refereeing. It’s a nationally televised game on Monday night featuring two premier teams. People will be watching. And so, Ed will be talking. And talking. And talking.”
USA Today staff: Pats across the board.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “Deflatey McGee has faced an NFC East team in the Super Bowl three times. In one of them the Patri*ts (probably) cheated, as that game occurred before they were caught filming opposing teams’ signals. In the other two games, Eagles fans could have used some help from Deflatey and the gang in defeating the Giants, but they choked. This year, Eagles fans face the very strong possibility of having to root for the team that likely cheated against them in the Super Bowl to beat the hated Cowboys. Woohoo!”
SB Nation staff: All Pats.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 28, Ravens 22. “The Patriots get a couple of scores in the fourth quarter to outlast the Ravens — a group New England might see again in the postseason. Baltimore’s defense has been shutting the door on opponents, especially with Elvis Dumervil providing an extra-effective body on the pass rush. Rookie Matt Judon added another sack last Sunday. Lardarius Webb came up with a clutch red-zone pick. Eric Weddle picked a ball off himself, as he continues to make plays in Year 10. The Ravens’ defense is tops in the league, and won’t be giving Tom Brady gimmes. New England’s pass-catching RBs could cause problems for Baltimore’s aggressive unit, though, even if LeGarrette Blount finds the one-on-one tackling to be on point this week. Interesting that Brady has thrown 10 picks versus the Ravens since 2008 — tied for the most he’s thrown against any team, with the Bills, despite the fact he has faced Baltimore seven fewer times in that span.”
Globe staff: Three out of five pick Baltimore (-7 New England).
It says here: Patriots 26, Ravens 24. For all his accolades, Justin Tucker will have his Billy Cundiff moment in the fourth quarter.