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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

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Coming off one of the most shocking losses in franchise history, the Ravens had a simple message this week while addressing the factors that contributed to blowing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead against Miami.

“Focus on the next opponent,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “We’ve got to move on because we have a long season ahead of us. We just can’t let that just drag us around even though we wanted that win.”

Playing its home opener, New England certainly doesn’t care about Baltimore’s problems with future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick adept at exploiting weaknesses and taking away what an opponent does best. At the same time, the Patriots still have to deal with what the Ravens did well over their first three quarters of dominant football against the Dolphins.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the 12th time in the regular season with New England holding a 9-2 advantage and a 6-0 record in Foxborough. Of course, as John Harbaugh was quick to note on Friday, Baltimore has won two of four postseason tilts at Gillette Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Matthew Judon will register a sack and force a fumble against his old team. While Judon wasn’t worth $13.6 million per year in the eyes of the Baltimore front office, fiscal responsibility doesn’t line up on the edge Sundays with the Ravens really hurting at outside linebacker these days. After registering a career-high 12 1/2 sacks and earning another Pro Bowl trip in his first year with New England, Judon has registered a sack in each of the Patriots’ first two games this season. Even without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens offensive line has done an excellent job protecting Jackson in the pocket, but Judon will beat right tackle Morgan Moses for a takedown.

2. Justice Hill will lead Baltimore tailbacks in carries. There’s much blame to go around in regards to the Ravens entering Week 3 ranking last in the NFL in rushing efficiency and rushing stuffed rate, according to Football Outsiders. However, we’ve seen examples of Kenyan Drake and Mike Davis missing daylight while combining for just 54 yards on 24 carries. Even if J.K. Dobbins does make his 2022 debut — Harbaugh was noncommittal on Friday — Hill popped a 13-yard run against Miami and has shown enough quickness to warrant more touches. The Ravens can’t count on a 79-yard touchdown run from Jackson this week to prop up what’s been a poor rushing attack, so it’s time to change it up. I’d also like to see what Nick Boyle can do as a blocking tight end at this point after he was a healthy scratch the first two weeks.

3. New England running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will combine for 130 total yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots lack the passing weapons to exploit this secondary — that should be healthier this week — in the way the Dolphins did, but the Baltimore defense has been spotty against the run (4.8 yards per carry allowed), especially on the edges where the Ravens sorely lack depth. There isn’t much to take away from the rainy 2020 meeting between these teams other than the fact that the Patriots rushed for 173 yards in that game and have continued to run the ball efficiently in the wake of Tom Brady’s departure. Their best bet to have a chance to win is to keep Jackson and the Baltimore offense on the sideline by running the ball and controlling the clock with Harris and Stevenson keeping second-year quarterback Mac Jones and the New England offense on schedule.

4. Isaiah Likely will catch his first NFL touchdown. I highly doubt Belichick’s defense will take away Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman entirely, but the Patriots have shown the ability over the years to take an offense out of its comfort zone, meaning the likes of Devin Duvernay and Likely will need to be ready to step up as targets for Jackson. It’s been an underwhelming start for the rookie tight end after his highlight reel of a preseason, but Likely is still third on the team in targets, a sign of Baltimore’s commitment to get him involved. The fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina finding the end zone would be the latest example of just how formidable this passing game has looked so far in 2022.

5. Jackson will throw for two touchdowns and be the difference as the Ravens edge New England in a 26-20 final. Even as the sting of the Miami loss lingers, Baltimore’s deficiencies feel less concerning with the star quarterback playing at an MVP level out of the gate in 2022. It’s never easy playing in Foxborough, but little about the Patriots overwhelms you on paper and they won’t have the benefit of heavy rain slowing Jackson like they did on that Sunday night two years ago. Jones has shown a sneaky willingness to push the ball downfield with the fifth-longest average depth of target through two weeks, but top receiver Jakobi Meyers is dealing with a knee injury and highly paid tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith have been a non-factor so far. The Ravens won’t dominate in this one like they did through the first three quarters last week, but much more importantly, they will finish.

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