Divisional Round NFL Picks: Look For A Dallas Upset At Lambeau

Tony Romo

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7)

At some point in the middle of the season, the top teams in each conference begin to establish themselves as the ‘teams to beat.’ Whenever this happens, speculation begins about which opponent is most suited to knock off such a powerhouse, especially since they will host their first playoff game following a first-round bye. Could the Cardinals have gone to Lambeau Field with a third-string quarterback and beaten the Green Bay Packers? No. Could the Steelers have won in Denver? Maybe. But, of all the teams assumed to give the New England Patriots their hardest fight, the Baltimore Ravens are the clear consensus choice.

The Ravens have traveled to New England twice in the past three postseasons — 2011 and 2012 — losing once by a field goal and winning in their second attempt in Foxborough in as many years. Both games indicate that Baltimore is neither intimidated nor over-matched by New England, at least as far as historical context is concerned.

Consider that, only a short 14 or so weeks ago, the public was ready to write-off the New England Patriots, claiming that “their run has come to an end” or “they just aren’t the same team anymore.”

What happened next — winning seven consecutive games and ten out of eleven to secure the top seed in the AFC — makes it easy to forget how quickly the bandwagon was abandoned, then rejoined by many. In that same regard, it appears as if the Patriots are suffering from the same ‘foregone conclusion syndrome’ that once turned small warts into rumors of leprosy.

“The Ravens are the worst matchup for the Patriots.”

As always, the National Football League is never that obvious.

New England has been a team on a mission since hitting its stride after the first few weeks of the season. The Patriots bludgeoned teams along the way to another double-digit win season and, as they always seem to do, found a way to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit and flow properly. The defense, often forgotten about behind the glorified offense, ranks eighth in points allowed, and concedes the second-fewest rushing touchdowns in the league. The offense, almost always an undeniable strength, as good as ever, led the league with the fewest turnovers and scored the fourth-most points throughout the season.

The Patriots even took a rare game off in Week 17 when hosting the Bills, providing further evidence that the team has been building for January in possibly the quietest form we’ve seen in years.

It’s time the Patriots get loud.

New England responds best when written off. The Patriots win by two touchdowns and cover the spread.

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Mario Mergola
Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola

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