Ravens or Patriots? NFL bloggers debate who will cover Monday night

If you’re still on the fence about who to back in this primetime matchup we’ve enlisted the help of expert NFL bloggers Ken McKusick, from RussellStreetReport.com, and Rich Hill, from Pats Pulpit. They strap on the pads and debate which team will not only win, but cover the spread on Monday Night Football.

WHY THE RAVENS WILL COVER

Ken McKusick (aka Filmstudy) is an actuary who has been involved in sports modeling projects since the mid 1980s. You can read his regular work on Russellstreetreport.com, follow him on Twitter (@filmstudyravens), or listen to his podcasts on Locked On Ravens.

The pass defense is playing well

The Ravens are built to frustrate Tom Brady with coverage, pressure, and impeded throwing lanes at the line of scrimmage. Tannehill had 9 TDs and 1 INT during the Dolphins 6-game win streak, but the Ravens picked him 3 times and held him to 5.1 yards per pass play. Lardarius Webb is in his first full season at safety and is now playing very well after a tough start. He’s the Ravens X-factor who moved up to play slot corner when Jerraud Powers was ineffective versus the Bengals. Safety Eric Weddle has been the team’s defensive MVP and Tavon Young has quickly become one of the league’s better corners (4 yards on 3 targets versus Miami) opposite physical veteran Jimmy Smith. Suggs and Dumervil provide edge pressure while a rotation of 5 defensive linemen that has shared every snap this season and provided some pressure and the league’s best run defense. 
 
The offense may have found itself

Joe Flacco had one of the best games of his career versus the Dolphins. He and Marty Mornhinweg appear to have found a formula to get the ball out quickly on crossing routes and slants rather than relying on the artillery shells (NE fans might call them PI prayers) which require misdirection or additional eligible blockers to provide longer pocket times. With the Miami game in hand, it was apparent from watching Flacco on the sideline that this is finally his offense and he’s happy with it. Despite a 38-6 win and 5.5 YPC, the Ravens passed 50 times and ran just 20. Perriman, Mike Wallace, and Steve Smith provide explosive playmaking on crossing routes. After 7 different starting OL combinations, the Ravens had finally had same 5 play well versus good defensive lines (Cin, Mia) the last 2 games.
 
It’s in the Ravens’ DNA to play close games

The Ravens have lost only 1 game by 2 scores this season (at Dallas, 24-14). They have played close games in part because the defense had been picking up the offense, but also because their outstanding special teams has kept them in a position to win. Not only has Justin Tucker been a league-leading 22.9 points better than league average on his FGs (per Football Outsiders), but Ravens opponents have made just 1 of 7 kicks 40+ (2 blocked). The Patriots have won 4 of the 6 meetings at Foxboro during the Flacco/Harbaugh era, while the Ravens have twice blown the Patriots out in the playoffs (33-14 in the 2009 WC, 28-13 in the 2012 AFCC) and the 4 New England wins have been by 6, 3, 3, and 4 points. Regardless of the outcome, the Ravens will give themselves a chance to win this game.

WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL COVER

Richard Hill is an editor at Pats Pulpit. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@patspulpit).

Patriots defense has turned a corner

After floundering on defense from weeks 6-10, the Patriots have put together three-straight solid performances, capped off with arguably their best defensive showing of the season against the Rams. Kyle Van Noy has stepped up at linebacker next to Dont’a Hightower and the defensive end rotation is player better than at any other point in the season. The 2nd ranked defense in the NFL is finally playing like it deserves that ranking.

New England shows up for hat-and-t-shirt games

The Patriots always play their best football when it matters the most and there’s a real chance that the Patriots could clinch a first round bye this week. If both the Steelers and Dolphins lose, then a Patriots victory would clinch a bye week. While the Ravens play the Patriots well, last week’s victory over the Dolphins was honestly Baltimore’s first well played and complete game of the year against a team other than the Browns. Are the Ravens for real?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

The Patriots won’t have TE Rob Gronkowski, probably won’t have WR Danny Amendola and TE Martellus Bennett is dealing with an injured ankle. But if any coach and quarterback combination can overcome losses of this magnitude, it’s Belichick and Brady. They will draw up plays to get running backs and receivers open in space to avoid the Ravens defensive front and to compensate for the lack of interior receivers.

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