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Rice must carry the load for the Ravens in New England

Three pressing questions surround the Baltimore-New England wild-card matchup on Sunday:

1. Can the Patriots win without Wes Welker?

The Patriots really counted on Wes Welker to move the chains, but he's done for the year after getting hurt in Week 17. When Welker played this season, Tom Brady completed 68 percent of his passes. When Welker didn't play, the number dropped to 56.3 percent.

With Welker on the field, Brady averaged 8.3 yards per pass, and without him only 5.9 yards. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said his team doubled Welker a few weeks ago and he still caught 13 passes. Julian Edelman replaces him and will catch his fair share of balls, but the Ravens will not double him and that leaves more coverage calls for Randy Moss.

In the Week 4 meeting between the Ravens and Patriots, Moss caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown as the Pats won, 27-21. Now a safety like Ed Reed can cheat more toward Moss and Brady has to be aware of where Reed is at all times.

2. Can Ray Rice carry the Ravens to a road win?

Ray Rice made the Pro Bowl in just his second season. He touches the ball 21 times a game for close to 128 total yards. The Patriots gave up 4.4 yards per carry this year. In the first meeting, Rice had 152 yards on 16 touches, but did not score.

The Ravens averaged 6.8 yards per rush in the first matchup, but Jerod Mayo did not play. The Patriots know that the Ravens run the ball 55 percent of the time on first downs and almost half of those go for at least 4 yards. Baltimore averages 4.2 yards rushing on second downs as well, which means New England has to play the run on the early downs.

The health of Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Jarvis Green is critical to the Patriots' run defense. Rice will get his yards, but the challenge will be for the Ravens to stick with the run game if Brady gets hot.

3. Is the Ravens' passing attack potent enough?

Sooner or later, the Ravens will need their passing game to come through for them to at least stay with a Patriots team that averages 31.3 points per game at home.

Brady is 8-0 at home in playoff games. In Brady's last 17 regular-season home games, he has thrown 38 touchdown passes, so Joe Flacco better be ready to keep up with the air attack.

Rice is the leading receiver with 78 catches, but he has only one touchdown grab. Todd Heap has been hot lately and needs to come through, as does Derrick Mason. Flacco gets sacked once every 14.9 dropbacks, which isn't good, but the Patriots have not gotten after the quarterback very well this season.

Brandon Meriweather has to play a big role on Heap and Adalius Thomas, who only had three sacks all year, needs to get to Flacco, or the Patriots will be in another close game.

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