The New England Patriots have not been underdogs at home since the 2014 regular season, when they were listed as +3 going into a matchup against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Patriots ended up winning that game in rather convincing fashion: Tom Brady and company beat the Broncos with a final score of 43-21, further strengthening their position in the AFC playoff race en route to a Super Bowl win.
The 2020 Patriots do not have a lot in common with team of six years ago — most prominently the absence of Tom Brady under center — but there is one thing that connects the two squads. This year’s team is also are listed as a home underdog heading into a regular season game versus a highly talented opponent from the AFC: SBD has the odds at +7 in the Baltimore Ravens’ favor for the two teams’ meeting on Sunday night.
This line does not come as a surprise: the Ravens are entering the game with a 6-2 record compared to the Patriots’ 3-5. While one team is a top-10 unit on offense and defense, the other has a -28 scoring differential on the year and has struggled mightily at times on both sides of the ball. Baltimore coming into Gillette Stadium while being favored by a touchdown makes plenty of success considering both clubs’ seasons so far.
And yet, the Ravens know not to take the Patriots lightly — at least when judged by their media statements this week.
“It’s still a Bill Belichick-led team. So, you have to respect them and give them the respect they deserve,” said defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. “You have to play hard against them, because they play hard. They’re a well-coached team. They work well together. That team has always been a plug-and-play type of offense. Their defense has always been that way, as well. So, you have to definitely give them their respect. They’re still a good football team, and you still have to go out there and bring your best, because they’re going to bring their best.”
Wolfe certainly knows what he is talking about considering that the 30-year-old was part of the Broncos team that came into Foxborough as 3-point favorites and ended up having not much of a chance against the Patriots. The circumstances (and teams) are vastly different this time around, but Belichick is still running the show in New England — and his team did just snap a four-game losing streak on Monday night.
The Patriots are still only 3-5 and looking up in the race for a playoff berth, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh knows that wins and losses alone do not define a football team.
“You really don’t look at the record when you look at the tape. You look at the tape, and you look at the scheme and the players and how it relates to what you’re trying to do,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very big challenge, because they have a great coaching staff. They always find ways to scheme up their opponents in different ways; we have to try to anticipate that. Especially with what we do offensively, which is different than what a lot of people do.
“They have very physical players on defense, for instance. They have a physical offensive line and downhill running game, with a really good, young back. It’s a big challenge. Their special teams are as good as anybody in the league.”
Pre-game pleasantries aside, the Patriots have shown that they can hang with the NFL’s elite. The problem is that they still did not beat them. They lost in Seattle — albeit by only one yard on the last play of the game — before also dropping contests in Kansas City and Buffalo. Add ugly losses against Denver and San Francisco and you get a team with more questions than answers halfway through its season.
Of course, momentum can change swiftly, and the Patriots have a chance to keep building on Sunday by proving that they can defeat one of the best clubs in the league. It won’t be easy, though, despite Baltimore’s praises.