Saturday NFL Preview: Ravens and Panthers Face Tough Road Challenges

Panthers Cam Newton

The Baltimore Ravens scored a tough win on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend. The Carolina Panthers, still owning a losing record a win into their playoff run, defeated an Arizona Cardinals team playing their third-string quarterback. The challenges grow for these two road dogs on Saturday.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Expect a lot of quick passes from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

With nose tackle Haloti Ngata coming up the middle, and edge pass rushers par excellence Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs coming off the edges, don’t expect Brady to hold the ball very long on most plays. This quick throwing approach worked very well for New England against another talented front in the their 34-9 win over the Detroit Lions in late November. Expect a heavy does of the Patriots’ talented receiving back Shane Vereen catching short passes out of the backfield.

The Patriots’ offensive line knows they have a huge challenge in front of them against a loaded Baltimore defensive front that gets even better this week with the return of defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan back from the injury list. He didn’t play last week in the Ravens’ wildcard win over Pittsburgh.

“There is a lot of pressure on us to do a good job,” said Patriots left guard Dan Connolly.

On plays when Brady does get quality time to throw, he should be able to rip apart a Ravens secondary which isn’t a strength. Ask Phillip Rivers. In late November, the San Diego quarterback threw for 383 yards, and three touchdowns, in a Chargers win in Baltimore.

Speaking of secondaries, the Patriots have one of their best deep patrols in quite some time led by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, coming off a strong game against Pittsburgh, will have a much bigger challenge this week. The Patriots secondary is much better than the Steelers secondary.

The key for the Ravens in this game is consistently making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket.

Baltimore basically plays the same defensive system the New York Jets did in 2014. The lowly Jets almost beat New England in a late season game, and held the Patriots to just 17 points. The Jets did this with a lot of pressure up the middle, getting Brady “off his spot.”

But it’s hard seeing the Patriots losing this game with two weeks to prepare. They are well-rested, and should have a tremendous game-plan.

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

The Panthers got a bad break on Tuesday, literally. Standout defensive tackle Star Lutulelei broke his foot in practice, and will miss the game.

He could have been a big help in containing Seahawks superstar tailback Marshawn Lynch. And it’s not like the Panthers were one of the better run defenses in the league even with Lutulelei, giving up 4.5 yards per carry this season.

While the Panthers lost Lutulelei, which hurts them up the middle, the Seahawks get help up the middle on offense, with talented center Max Unger returning from a lengthy stay on the injury list.

Not to rain on the Panthers’ parade, but beating an Arizona club starting a third-string quarterback last week at home is nothing like trying to beat the defending champs in Seattle led by duel running-throwing threat Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks are on a roll, winning six games in a row. They seem to have their 2013 mojo back. In their last five games, “The Legion of Boom” hasn’t given up more than seven points in a game.

The Seahawks gave up the fewest passing yards in the NFL this season, so it’s hard seeing Cam Newton, and Carolina’s wildly inconsistent passing offense, getting a lot done.

The best shot for the Panthers offense to compete in this game is a heavy dose of tailback back Jonathan Stewart, a Seattle-native, who rushed for 123 yards in the win over Arizona, and had a very strong December.

But anyway you slice it, it’s really hard seeing Carolina winning this game.