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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Ravens-Patriots Playoff Prediction Roundup: A Tribute to Billy Cundiff

Billy Cundiff made 22 field goals for the Cleveland Browns in 2014, a 76 percent success rate that ranked 17th in the NFL.

He’s kicked 50 field goals in all since that moment, for the Browns and the Washington Redskins, with whom he spent some time in 2012.

But he’ll always be that Billy Cundiff. Buckner. Webber. Van de Velde.

Cundiff.

The Browns waived the kicker last month after missing field goals in back-to-back games down the stretch for Cleveland. The Ravens did the same thing in the wake of their devastating loss in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. A year later, Baltimore had a new kicker and had forgotten all about poor Billy Cundiff, en route to a Super Bowl title.

"You understand that you're only given so many misses before they're going to start looking elsewhere," Cundiff told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last fall in a profile on the life of a kicker. "It's just the way that it goes. If you have the right perspective, it's the world you work in.”

It’s also something the Patriots have tended to take for granted for almost 20 years now, first with the stability of Adam Vinatieri, then with the dependability of Stephen Gostkowski, two of the greatest kickers to ever suit up in the NFL. Yet, they are afterthoughts because of their talents.

Vinatieri, despite a handful of clueless boo-birds, will go down as a New England sports icon for his heroics in a trio of Super Bowl runs. Gostkowski…well, he’ll be remembered well.

He hasn’t had that career-defining moment quite yet. The Snow Bowl. In the frigid cold against the Titans. A Super Bowl-winning kick right through the uprights in New Orleans.

Maybe it’s coming this month.

Maybe it will, mercifully, never come.

Still, Billy Cundiff is no Adam Vinatieri. And Stephen Gostkowski is certainly no Billy Cundiff.

The picks

Our roundup of nationwide picks for Saturday's Ravens-Patriots divisional playoff game.

Baltimore Sun staff: Four out of seven pick the Patriots. Jon Meoli picks a 24-20 Ravens win. “The Patriots' greatest weakness the past few years has been the trouble they've had in keeping opponents from disrupting Tom Brady's rhythm. Every playoff run in New England for the past decade ended that way, and the Ravens can do it yet again.”

Meanwhile, Peter Schmuck picks a 26-20 win for New England. “The Ravens have had mostly good luck at Gillette Stadium in the postseason, but they've still got a depleted secondary that Brady should be able to exploit -- if he can stay on his feet. It's going to be a big weekend for all the home teams.”

ESPN.com staff: Ten out of 12 pick the Patriots.

Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: Patriots 28, Ravens 24. “The Ravens are 2-1 against the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady Patriots at Foxborough in the playoffs. That's telling, and they were close to winning the third game. The Ravens know how to win up there. They are tough and they get after Brady. In the three playoff games against the Ravens, Brady has three touchdown passes and seven interceptions. That's awful. He has to be better. But I think he will be. This Ravens team has issues in the secondary. So even with a good pass rush, there will be chances for Brady down the field. Joe Flacco is now 10-4 in the playoffs and seems to elevate his game come playoff time. In the three playoff games against the Patriots, Flacco has five touchdown passes and two picks. He only threw 10 passes in one of the victories as the Ravens ran it right at the Patriots. New England was 19th in sacks per pass play this season, so there should be chances to make plays deep for Flacco, which is his strength. The Ravens will keep this close, but in the end I think Brady will make the plays to pull the game out.”

CBSSports.com staff: All Ravens across the board (New England by 7 ˝).

foxsports.com staff: Four out of six pick the Patriots.

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 20, Ravens 17. "If you haven’t heard anything about how Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s number in the playoffs, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. That’s been the talk around the Patriots all week, why Flacco has outdueled Brady in one-and-done time.

“More of that has to do with a Ravens’ defense that’s been built to slow down Brady, and a Patriots’ defense that’s had its flaws for Flacco to exploit. While New England, with the Broncos in mind, upgraded its secondary with Darrelle Revis, the improved unit works pretty well against Baltimore’s offense, too. The Ravens have struggled to run well of late, and Revis can take hot speedster Torrey Smith out of the game. Brady, meanwhile, will find a way to pick apart the Ravens’ much weaker secondary.

“In a game where the yards will be tough to get and big plays will be few, look for Brady to out-grit Flacco, well aware of that recent history. ”

David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 27, Ravens 23. “Budding? Sure. A lot of folks aren’t yet ready to put this on the level of Broncos-Patriots, Colts-Broncos, or Seahawks-49ers, even though this is the third time in four years they’ve met in the playoffs and the fourth time in six years. Still, since the Ravens served up two of the three Patriots home playoff losses in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, this is firmly in the rivalry conversation."

Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 27, Ravens 24. “Do you remember the show "Eight Is Enough"? Dick Van Patten always thought his kids were the best, even when he had to reprimand Nicholas for talking back, or Tommy (yes, the same dude from "Charles in Charge") for being too hard on his little brother. John Harbaugh is like that, managing the ship amidst adversity throughout the season while telling the world that Joe Flacco is the best quarterback anywhere. Distractions? What distractions? I feel like Harbaugh is such a solid, uncomplicated, meat-and-potatoes coach. Assuming the combination to his luggage is 1-2-3-4-5 -- just like Van Patten's combo in "Spaceballs."

Eight will be enough if the Ravens' pressure can get to Brady at least that many times. Not necessarily sacks, but full-on knockdowns. New England will run the ball 25 times this game, so making Brady pay on second- and third-and-long is key. If the Ravens don't get after the passer, Rob Gronkowski can light them up. Remember, the last time these two teams met in the playoffs -- with the Ravens upending the Pats in Foxborough -- Gronk was on the shelf. Even Brandon LaFell can cause trouble for Baltimore. In fact, I see him scoring at least once. So for the Ravens to steal this one on the road, they must routinely knock Brady off his spot. On offense, Justin Forsett has to play better than he did last Saturday night. Otherwise, Harbaugh's theorem about Flacco might get waxed in the face of the Brady axiom. (Especially, again, if the latter has time.)”

NFL.com staff: Four out of five pick New England.

Boston Globe staff: Three out of four pick the Ravens (New England by seven).

It says here: Patriots 26, Ravens 20. Healthy Gronk, sure. But the offensive keys for Brady are going to be Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman.

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