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Ravens vs. Tom Brady: NFL's No. 1 defense goes against top-ranked quarterback

It will the best against the best when the Baltimore Ravens play at the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

The Ravens are the NFL's No. 1 defense, holding teams to 296.1 yards per game. The Patriots counter with Tom Brady, the league's top-rated quarterback (113.1).

Baltimore has held Brady in check despite losing seven of 10 meetings against him (including playoffs). He has completed 58.2 percent of his passes against the Ravens, throwing 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions (76.5 rating).

Brady, the winningest quarterback in NFL history, is 7-1 this season. His only loss came against the highest-ranked defense he's faced this season (the Seattle Seahawks, who have the No. 8 defense).

Here are six players to watch, courtesy of ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss:

OFFENSE

QB Tom Brady: After missing the first four games of the season as part of the NFL’s Deflategate suspension, the 17-year veteran and 15-time team captain made up lost ground quickly. He is 208-of-302 for 2,470 yards, with 19 touchdowns and one interception in eight games. One of the things that stands out with the 39-year-old Brady is his mobility in the pocket, which he’s worked hard on as he’s gotten older in hopes of extending more plays. He has been slowed by a knee injury in each of the last two games, but it has been less of an issue for him as time has passed.

LG Joe Thuney: The third-round pick from NC State is getting some love in this space because he’s done something that few others have duplicated this season -- playing every snap. This is a matter of pride to the intelligent Thuney, whose athleticism is hard to miss when pulling in front of run plays. The Ravens know all about the value of good guard play with Marshal Yanda, who like Thuney was a third-round pick (2007), and Thuney is off to a good start in his career.

WR Malcolm Mitchell: When you think of the Patriots’ skill-position players, it’s names like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett who usually dominate the discussion, but don’t overlook Mitchell. The fourth-round draft choice from Georgia has put together an impressive three-game stretch -- 17 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns -- as he has entered the Tom Brady Circle of Trust. This usually doesn’t happen quickly for rookie pass-catchers, which reflects well on the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Mitchell.

DEFENSE

LB Kyle Van Noy: When the Patriots traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 31, it left a void to fill, and the 6-foot-3, 243-pound Van Noy has been an emerging part of a group effort to do so. Acquired in a trade with the Lions on Oct. 26, he has played the last three games and is coming off arguably his best performance -- four tackles, one interception, one drawn holding penalty on a strong pass rush. He entered the NFL as a 2014 second-round draft choice out of BYU but never seemed to be a solid system fit in Detroit. It’s a better fit for him in New England, as his emergence the last three games is a notable storyline.

CB Malcolm Butler: The last time the Patriots and Ravens played -- Jan. 10, 2015 in the divisional round of the playoffs -- Butler totaled zero defensive snaps, as he was fifth on the cornerback depth chart. Times have changed. The Super Bowl XLIX hero with his game-saving interception elevated to the No. 1 spot in the 2015 season and has stayed there this year. One thing that stands out with him is his competitiveness. His 14 pass breakups lead the NFL, and he has two interceptions. A potential Butler vs. Steve Smith matchup is compelling. Oh, and Butler is a pretty good actor too.

DE Jabaal Sheard: Ravens fans know all about Sheard from the first four years of his career in the AFC North with the Browns (2011-14). He signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Patriots as a free agent prior to the 2015 season and turned in a solid initial campaign that gave the team more comfort in trading defensive end Chandler Jones in the offseason. But it’s been an up and down year for Sheard, who went from opening day starter to healthy scratch to part of a four-man rotation at the position. He’s coming off his best game of the season against the Rams -- four tackles, one quarterback hit that forced an interception and three passes defended.