EVERYTHING BUT THE SCORE

Street Talk EVERYTHING BUT THE SCORE

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In 2006, the Ravens fielded a team suited perfectly for the
NFL postseason.  Baltimore had a smothering defense,
impeccable special teams, a solid running game, and an experienced quarterback
who could both manage the game and make plays.

In those days, we didn’t have a fully developed one-stop-shopping
blog for Ravens’ news like Ravens24x7.com. 
Instead, we conducted our Ravens talk on listservs with our friends.

At the conclusion of the 2006 regular season, as folks on
the listserv were weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the playoff teams, I
interjected with a plea to stop wasting time.

"Folks, get real," I wrote.  "It’s
inevitable
that the Ravens will win the Super Bowl."

For those of you lucky enough to be under a rock or in a
cave on that balmy January 2007 day, the Indianapolis Colts (Irsay!) came into Baltimore and faced the
Ravens and a fired-up, angry crowd.

The Ravens’ D was spectacular, shutting down vaunted elite
quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Ravens’ special teams were outstanding.

The running game was lively, with Jamal Lewis running harder
than he had in years.

And that experienced quarterback?  He played as if he had money on the
Colts.  Miscue after miscue gave the
Colts great field position, leading to five (count em’, five!) field goals, and
a 15-6 Indy win.

As I stood in Section 142, blinking in disbelief, my
longtime friend Mike turned to me and said, "It’s inevitable." 

Ouch.

I realized instantly that my boastful, prideful prediction
had cost my beloved Ravens the Lombardi Trophy that they so richly deserved.

So guess what I’m NOT going to do in this column.  That’s right – you can go online and predict
victory for the Ravens, but, keeping in mind the hex that must surely lie
within me, I will not do so.

However, for all of you side bet players in Vegas and
Atlantic City (and you know who you are), I will make predictions on various
aspects of this Sunday’s American Football Conference championship game in
Foxboro, Massachusetts between the Ravens and New England Patriots.  Predictions on everything, but the
score. 

Remember, these predictions are merely an exhibition for
entertainment purposes only, and not part of a competition, so please, no
wagering.  Oh, and any rebroadcast of
this column without the express written consent of the Commissioner of Major
League Baseball is strictly prohibited. 

So, without further ado, here is what is going to happen on
Sunday in Foxboro:

The Ravens will gain
more yards of total offense than the Patriots
.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady will be able
to move the ball through the air; but so will Ravens’ quarterback Joe
Flacco.  The difference between the two
teams’ offenses is that the Ravens will be able to move the ball on the ground,
and the Patriots will not.  My projected
total yards tally:  Ravens with 374
yards, and the Patriots with 370 yards.

Flacco will stay
within 35 passing yards of Brady

Without a reliable running game, the Patriots will have Brady throw more
often than Flacco.  However, the Ravens’
defense posted the best opposing passer rating in the NFL.  How ya feeling, T. J. Yates?  Brady will get some of that, too.  And the Patriots’ pass defense is worse than
Flacco’s throwing ability, making for a better than average day for Usually
Average Joe.  My projection has Brady
finishing with 277 passing yards (with an interception), and Flacco finishing
with 245 passing yards (also with an interception), a 32-yard difference.

The Ravens will hold
Brady to a passer rating below 90

The Ravens held opposing quarterbacks to a 68.8 passer rating, best in
the NFL.  My projection has Brady
finishing with a passer rating of 87.2. 
Flacco’s passer rating will be 83.9; not a sizable difference.

The Ravens will
dominate the ground game.
  Hopefully,
Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will exploit this advantage with 35
or more running plays.  However, his
history indicates that he’ll probably stop at 29 running plays.  Yet, those plays should net the Ravens a
healthy 129 yards, or 4.4 yards per carry (the Patriots allowed 4.6 yards per
carry this season).  I predict that the
Patriots will run the ball 24 times for only 93 yards, or just 3.9 yards per
carry. 

New
England
will dominate
the return game
.  The Ravens’
coverage units have been porous this season, allowing a staggering 29.2 yards
per kickoff return and 11.9 yards per punt return.  Expect the Patriots to average 25.3 yards per
kickoff return on Sunday, to the Ravens’ 23.2 yards; and expect the Patriots to
average 11.1 yards per punt return, to the Ravens’ 9.0 yards per punt
return.  Field position could be a
problem for Baltimore.

The Patriots will win
the turnover battle.
  New England finished the season with a  plus-17 turnover margin, while the Ravens
posted a mediocre plus-2.  I expect New England to pick off one of Flacco’s passes, and
recover one Raven fumble (hopefully not on special teams).  The Ravens will intercept one of Brady’s
passes.  For the Ravens, these turnovers
will hopefully not occur in crucial situations or deep in their own territory,
but there is no way to tell at this point. 
Baltimore
will have to overcome a turnover disadvantage to win this game, a task that is
historically difficult.

Baltimore‘s pass rush will be stronger than New England’s
There have been two prevailing thoughts on the pass rush situation
circulating on the web.  First, is that
Terrell Suggs is in some kind of funk, and can no longer get a sack.  The other usually contains pictures of Brady
in a pink dress or red leather boots as he’s devoured by a pass rusher.  Expect the latter.  Houston
manhandled the Ravens’ offensive and defensive lines – the Texans do that to
every team they play, and the Patriots don’t. 
The Ravens will sack Brady more often than the Patriots sack Flacco.

The Ravens will win
on third down, and the Patriots will win on fourth down.
  A forty percent conversion rate is considered
"good" in the NFL.  The Ravens’
defense allowed only a 32 percent conversion rate this season.  That’s bad news for Brady and company.  Expect the Ravens to exceed the "40
percent" level on third down conversions (New England’s defense permitted
a 43 percent conversion rate to opposing offenses), while the Patriots will
finish below that level.  On fourth down,
it’s a different story.  The Patriots
converted a whopping 64 percent of fourth down tries this season, while
allowing only 42 percent.  If it’s
decision time on fourth down, New England
should go for the first down, and the Ravens should kick the field goal.

So there you have it. 
Again, please don’t fault me for "wimping out" of a final
score prediction – IT’S INEVITABLE that doing so would put the whammy on our
guys.

Enjoy the game!

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Steve Hamrick

About Steve Hamrick

Steve Hamrick is a Baltimore native and original 1996 Personal Seat License holder.  He is also an attorney and the founding member of The Hamrick Law Firm.  But please don't hold that against him.  More from Steve Hamrick

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