OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For any team fighting for a playoff spot, the last place you want to play is at New England, and the last quarterback you want to face is Tom Brady.
The last time Brady played an entire home regular-season game against an AFC opponent and lost was 10 years ago, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Since that game, Brady is 50-1 in such starts, with the only loss coming in the 2014 season finale, when he didn’t play after halftime because the Patriots had clinched their playoff position.
Despite all of the daunting numbers, the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) are eager for the challenge that awaits them Monday night in New England.
"We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."
The Ravens are one of the few teams that don't seem intimidated by playing at Gillette Stadium, especially when the stakes are at the highest. Baltimore has handed Brady two of his three home losses in the postseason, and it could have been more. The Ravens lost the 2011 AFC Championship Game when Lee Evans failed to hold on to a touchdown catch, and they dropped a divisional playoff game two years ago after failing to hold two 14-point leads.
Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday night's game against the Patriots (10-2) represents the Ravens' toughest challenge of the season. But Baltimore has never been more ready for this type of test this season, especially after coming off its most complete performance of the season.
"We’re going to need to play our best football on Monday night up in New England to win that football game," Harbaugh said a day after the Ravens' 38-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins. "We do believe we have a chance to do that based on where we’re at right now. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
This is a battle between two first-place teams, although many don't see them on equal footing. The Ravens are 7-point underdogs, and they're given a 20.5 percent chance of winning by ESPN Analytics.
Baltimore could be catching the Patriots at the right time. New England is not at full strength after tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending back injury and wide receiver Danny Amendola left the stadium Sunday on crutches and in a walking boot.
But the Patriots still have Brady, the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL with 19 touchdowns and one interception. New England is currently the No. 2 seed behind the Oakland Raiders and is looking to clinch the AFC East for the 13th time in 14 seasons.
"There’s a lot of respect for New England," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, a lot of respect for coach [Bill] Belichick and for Tom Brady and all of those players. They have a great organization. They do a great job, obviously, year in and year out, because they’re always at the top, and they’ve earned it. That’s something that we’ve been honored enough to be in some big games against them over the years. We feel like that’s a place we want to be, and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are tied atop the AFC North with four weeks remaining. The Steelers finish out the season at the Buffalo Bills (6-6) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) before playing host to the Ravens and winless Cleveland Browns (0-12).
Baltimore has a more difficult stretch. The Ravens play at the Patriots and return home to face the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7). Their last two games are on the road against the Steelers and Bengals.
Harbaugh and the Ravens are embracing the challenge of closing out the season with three road games in four weeks.
"I’m happy to be playing them right now. I’m excited to be playing them right now when it counts the most," Harbaugh said. "It’s an honor to get to coach these games. What degree of a challenge is it? It’s a big challenge. It’s a huge challenge. We feel like we have just the men for the job in this room right here.”