Here we go again.

Of the three opponents the New England Patriots could have drawn in the AFC divisional round, the Baltimore Ravens were by far the longest shot.

They only got into the playoffs as the sixth seed because the San Diego Chargers could not beat the Kansas City Chiefs and their second-string quarterback in the final game of the regular season. Then their reward was to go to Pittsburgh, where they had been 0-3 in the playoffs.

But when the Patriots take the field at 4:35 p.m. Saturday at Gillette Stadium, it will indeed be the Ravens standing on the other sideline. Baltimore sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and beat up the Steelers in a 30-17 win Saturday night.

So Baltimore comes back to Gillette Stadium, where the Ravens have won two of the previous three playoff games between New England and Baltimore since 2010.

This won’t be an easy one for the Patriots. Baltimore is a franchise that thrives on being an underdog on the road. The Ravens won both of their Super Bowl championships (2000 and 2013 seasons) after making the playoffs as a wild-card team.


In beating the Steelers, quarterback Joe Flacco got his seventh road playoff win – the most by a quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Baltimore has the type of defense – with a strong pass-rushing line and active linebackers – that can give the Patriots trouble.

The Ravens had 49 sacks during the regular season, led by Elvis Dumervil with 17 (plus two more against the Steelers) and Terrell Suggs with 12.

The Patriots can try to slow down the pass rush by running the ball effectively – no easy task; the Ravens allowed just 88.2 rushing yards per game, fourth in the NFL – or by using an extra offensive linemen to block for Tom Brady.

Baltimore gave up just 43 yards rushing to Pittsburgh, which was without the injured Le’Veon Bell, the NFL’s second-leading rusher in the regular season.

Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley led the Ravens with 133 tackles (plus three sacks), and he teams with Suggs to cover the field sideline to sideline.


But the Patriots should have an edge against Baltimore’s secondary, which scares no one. Lardarius Webb and Rashaan Melvin are the cornerbacks. The Ravens rotate four players at safety, though Will Hill has emerged lately with some strong play.

This is where the Patriots can attack the Ravens, if Brady is given time by an offensive line that should be healthy for the first time since Week 15. Left guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer both should be recovered from their late-season injuries. And when the Patriots have had a full complement of offensive line starters, they have been very good in pass protection, allowing just 26 sacks on the season.

When the Patriots played teams with big pass rushes during the regular season – Denver and Detroit come to mind – they did very well.

The Ravens had a balanced offense in the regular season. Flacco threw for career bests in yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27). Running back Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards (averaging 5.4 yards per carry) and scored eight touchdowns. Steve Smith Sr. came over from Carolina and became Flacco’s favorite receiver, catching 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns.

Torrey Smith, who always seems to hurt the Patriots, caught 11 touchdown passes among his 49 receptions for 767 yards. Tight end Owen Daniels caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns.

Flacco, who Coach John Harbaugh called “the best quarterback in football” after Saturday’s win, had a nice game against the Steelers, completing 18 of 29 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Smith was impressive as well, with five catches for 101 yards.


But Forsett, who goes just 5-foot-8 and 197 pounds, gained only 36 yards against the Steelers. The Ravens need him to be more productive against New England if the Ravens are going to have any chance against the Patriots’ superior secondary, led by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and safety Devin McCourty.

Baltimore is also dangerous on special teams. Jacoby Jones was the league’s second-best kickoff returner, averaging 30.6 yards, while providing nice punt returns as well, averaging 9.2 yards.

And punter Sam Koch often gave his defense good field position, putting 26 of his 60 punts inside the 20.

All in all, the Ravens should offer a strong challenge to the Patriots.

But New England should be able to attack Baltimore’s secondary while also shutting down a big part of the Ravens’ offense with its secondary.

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