The New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens are both now 10-2. Super Bowl weekend brought us a hard-fought Ravens’ victory and a rare loss by the Patriots. The thing is, the New England offense has stagnated while the Ravens’ has exploded. People are absolutely raving about Lamar Jackson these days (rightfully so), and last week, the Ravens’ odds to win the Super Bowl surpassed those of the Patriots for the first time this season. So who is the better AFC team, the Patriots or the Ravens? And who will secure home-field advantage in the NFL Playoffs? Let’s discuss!
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The Baltimore Ravens
In Week 12, we saw the Ravens embarrass the LA Rams, 45-6. Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw five touchdowns before heading out early in the fourth quarter. A fantastic running QB who is progressing immensely as a passer, he makes defenders look helpless. Jackson is headlining the MVP conversation this season, but all he really cares about is the Super Bowl. And this team has the pieces to get there with the most intimidating offense in football and a cohesive defense to boot.
This weekend, the Ravens took down the favorites to win the NFC, the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers, in what many are calling a potential Super Bowl preview. Baltimore continued their eight-game winning streak, a franchise record, despite the less-than-optimal passing conditions caused by the wind and rain. The weather resulted in a rare off-game by Jackson, proving that the man is fallible, but the Ravens were still able to take down Jimmy Garoppolo and company 20-17. Luckily, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker overcame the competition with a fourth-quarter field goal, which just happened to be the 15th game-winning kick of his career.
The best thing about Sunday’s game was that it showed us the Ravens can win even when things aren’t going perfectly for the team. Jackson completed 14 of 23 passes with no interceptions and only 105 passing yards (again, we blame the wind and rain), but the QB still managed to run 16 times for 101 rushing yards, albeit with one fumble (recovered by the defense). He’s now the first quarterback in the NFL with more than four games of 100+ rushing yards in a single season.
Needless to say, the Ravens displayed an ability to win using the pass and the run game in back-to-back weeks. That’s two very deadly sides to the same coin – proving they can beat you either way. They’re now leading the AFC North by three games, and a lot will depend on the Patriots’ performance when it comes to playoff seeding. The Ravens need to stay perfect (match the Patriots record) to keep that home-field advantage. Next up, they face the Buffalo Bills on the road, which may not be as easy a matchup as it sounds considering the Bills’ Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys.
The New England Patriots
Meanwhile, the Pats offense isn’t looking as fantastic as it once was. This weekend, they struggled against the Houston Texans, losing 28-22. Brady threw 326 yards for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. He also had one interception, got sacked three times, and his passer rating in the first half was 28.8. New England didn’t score a touchdown until the third quarter and Brady seemed visibly frustrated with his receivers. He’s clearly missing a go-to guy beyond Julian Edelman and running back James White.
More importantly, with that loss, the Patriots also lost their hold on the number-one seed in the playoffs. (Remember, because the Ravens defeated the Patriots in their head-to-head game, Baltimore holds the tiebreaker.) This means that, unless the Ravens stumble, the Pats won’t have home-field advantage in the postseason.
But they’re still the Patriots, Tom Brady is still performing, and they’ve still got one of Belichick’s best defensive units ever (though they could stand to improve their tacking after Sunday’s performance), so you can’t count them out. Regardless of what the sports gurus and oddsmakers say – or how the Pats’ missteps during the regular season – they’ve got that postseason experience. And nobody likes to go through Foxborough on their way to the Super Bowl, so you can bet they’ll be fighting to get that number-one seed back.
But anything could happen. The Patriots will surely come back with a vengeance next week, and they’ll need to – because they’re playing the Kansas City Chiefs and a healthy Patrick Mahomes.