Pro Picks: Patriots to repeat December romp

Pro Picks: Patriots to repeat December romp

Bill Belichick insists the rematch of a December game with the Texans will be different.

Not too much different, of course, because he fully expects his Patriots to win the divisional-round playoff game and advance to the AFC title match.

As for another 42-14 outcome, New England's coach is having none of it.

``The plays will match up differently and I'm sure there will be new plays that weren't in that game,'' Belichick said. ``I don't think you can overanalyze that game. We're playing a team, we have our team, they have their team and it's a big picture thing.''

The big picture is that the AFC East champion Patriots (12-4) come off their playoff bye as 9 1/2-point favorites against the AFC South winners. Houston (13-4) beat Cincinnati 19-13 in the wild-card round, not looking particularly overwhelming.

It's pretty simple what the Texans must do at the outset Sunday: stay close. They fell behind so quickly on Dec. 10 that the outcome was decided after one quarter.

``We know that our effort and how we performed last time wouldn't give us a chance against anybody on the road,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``It's about right now refocusing on all the things we have to do to go down there and have a chance to be successful, and I'm sure that's what they're thinking about.''

It won't be as bad as 42-14, but ...

BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 41-14.

Green Bay (plus 3) at San Francisco

The Packers have no fear about going on the road in the postseason. A similar crew to this year's group won three away games two years ago, then beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

And the NFC North champion Packers who the West-winning 49ers face Saturday night have gotten healthier as the playoffs approached. They have a decent running game to go with that deep receiving corps Aaron Rodgers throws to.

But Green Bay has two significant questions:

-Can the spotty offensive line neutralize one of the NFL's most dangerous pass rushes, something it couldn't do in the season opener?

-Can a defense that has been gorged on the ground at times slow down the league's fourth-best rushing attack, led by Frank Gore.

The Niners also have some uncertainties, notably how second-year QB Colin Kaepernick will handle the playoff pressure for the first time. They do have a secondary that matches up well with Green Bay's receivers.

The Pack has been through this before and succeeded. Why not again?

UPSET SPECIAL: PACKERS, 30-27

Baltimore (plus 9 1/2) at Denver

For the Ray Lewis Tribute Tour to keep rolling, the Ravens must beat Peyton Manning and the NFL's hottest team, the AFC West champion Broncos. In the Mile High City.

It's a lot more imposing a task than the AFC North champ Ravens faced at home against the Colts.

``There's probably an element that we'll carry forward because you're always building on what you are,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Hopefully we take all the things that happened and we take it into that game emotionally and carry it with us. But this is a new game. It's a whole new environment. It's a whole new situation for us. So I think the slate is wiped clean in that sense. This will be a new challenge for us.''

Too big a challenge.

BRONCOS, 27-20

Seattle (plus 3) at Atlanta

Seattle has become the fashionable choice, the outsider that could emulate the Giants of last season, the Packers of the previous year, and so on.

The Falcons, meanwhile, have been stamped by many as the shaky favorite because of an 0-3 postseason record under Mike Smith. There's also the feeling that no team fears going into the Georgia Dome, and with the Seahawks having erased their road woes in the last month or so, they are a formidable foe.

Still, these Falcons are better than the previous three playoff editions, and they have the big, physical and versatile receivers to deal with Seattle's big, physical and versatile secondary.

Like the other NFC game, this will be close.

FALCONS, 22-20

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2012 RECORD:

Against spread: 2-2 (114-126-7). Straight up: 3-1 (162-93-1)

Best Bet: 8-8-2 against spread, 12-6 straight up.

Upset special: 11-7 against spread, 9-9 straight up.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Ravens target playmaking receiver with second pick of 4th round

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Ravens target playmaking receiver with second pick of 4th round

The Ravens targeted playmaking wide receiver Chris Moore with their second pick (107th overall) in the fourth round. While the Ravens expect wide receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman to return from season-ending injuries in 2015, Moore could earn a role in the rotation and should add depth to a position where injuries have been a problem.

During his college career, Moore had 26 touchdown catches and excelled both as a deep threat receiver and as a possession receiver. His 21.1 yards per catch average last season ranked eighth in the nation, as Moore finished with 39 receptions for 823 yards and seven touchdowns for the season. 

The Ravens were also attracted by Moore’s size -- 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Moore showed a willingness to catch balls in traffic at Cincinnati, and he also broke tackles that led to long runs after the catch.

The Ravens also signed deep threat receiver Mike Wallace during free agency, so on paper, quarterback Joe Flacco will begin training camp with a diverse variety of weapons. Big plays were sorely lacking in the Ravens’ passing game last season, but Moore could play a part in changing that.

Ravens finally take cornerback in 4th round of NFL Draft

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Ravens finally take cornerback in 4th round of NFL Draft

The Ravens finally drafted a cornerback, taking Tavon Young of Temple with their first pick in the fourth round (104th overall). Young is a Maryland native who went to Oxon Hill High School, and the Ravens hope Young’s homecoming will strengthen their secondary.

For five straight years, the Ravens have not drafted a cornerback during any of the first three rounds. Jimmy Smith, their first-round pick in 2011, is the last cornerback the Ravens have spent a high pick on, and it was revealed this week that Smith would undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his foot. 

Smith is expected to recover in four to six weeks, but even before his most recent foot issues, the Ravens entered this draft looking for corners. The starting spot opposite Smith is wide open, and even if Shareece Wright or Kyle Arrington wins that job, Young has a chance to contribute immediately in a nickel-back role.

Young had seven career interceptions at Temple, but he was not among the bigger corners in this draft pick at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. Young might have his work cut out covering taller receivers, but he was durable and tackled well – two traits that likely attracted him to the Ravens.

Ravens have not drafted a cornerback in first three rounds since 2011

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Ravens have not drafted a cornerback in first three rounds since 2011

You would expect the Ravens to draft a cornerback at some point Saturday, but even if they do, it might be too late.

The Ravens didn’t draft a cornerback in the first three rounds, the fifth straight year that has happened. Fifteen cornerbacks went off the board in Rounds 1 through 3, but none of them went to the Ravens.

Their last high draft pick at corner was Jimmy Smith, a first-round pick in 2011. Since 2013, the Ravens have only drafted three corners -- the late Tray Walker (2015), Marc Anthony (2013), and Asa Jackson (2012).

At a position that is vitally important, the Ravens have not been very active in the draft. Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta defended that fact Friday night, and still believed the Ravens could find a quality cornerback Saturday.

“I think we will,” DeCosta said Friday night. “You need a little luck sometimes, and it depends on the board, but there’s still a lot of good players at that position and other positions. The challenge for us will be to find those guys.”

Cornerbacks the Ravens could target include Juston Burris of N. C. State, Rashard Robinson of LSU, Zack Sanchez of Oklahoma, D. J. White of Georgia Tech, and Tavon Young of Temple.

But if cornerback play becomes an issue for the Ravens next season, they may look at this draft as another missed opportunity to improve at that position.