With Tom Brady in his current form, with the Baltimore Ravens struggling at home against the Houston Texans and having a pretty unimpressive road record this season, the New England Patriots are entering the AFC Championship game as favorites to make their fifth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick.
Tom Brady means everything in this game, for both teams. The Baltimore Ravens have beaten the Patriots when the two teams last met in the postseason, and getting to Brady was the key two years ago. Forcing Brady to make mistakes, which is very difficult, is the key now.
Numbers say the Ravens have probably the best defense in the NFL. Allowing only 196.3 passing yards and 92.6 yards on the ground. The Texans did get 131 last week but lost, and don’t expect the Patriot to heavily rely on their running game and the trio of Green-Ellis, Ridley and Woodhead. Their pass rush, though, and ability to sack the quarterback, is not among the elite in the game. They rely on their excellent secondary, mostly Ed Reed, to beat quarterbacks.
Brady is 9-2 in the playoffs at home, but he turned the ball over 3 times in the first quarter, at home, in the Ravens’ only win over the Patriots that January in 2010. Ray Rice broke out with a long 83 yard touchdown, and the Ravens won 33-14.
Ray Rice is the key to this offense, with the Ravens going 9-0 whenever Rice gets more than 20 carries a game. Joe Flacco also prefers throwing to Rice, his second most targeted receiver after Anquan Boldin. The Ravens aren’t about big plays, and the Patriot’s inside linebackers attempt to stop Rice and the Ravens’ short field gain attempts is the most important defensive assignment.
For the Ravens, it’s Brady, Brady, Brady. He wasn’t sacked against the Broncos, and if given time in the pocket, he’ll find his guys. With two fantastic and very different tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the Ravens will find it very difficult to stop the medium-short range passing game. Their linebackers are more built to stop the run than the pass, and the Patriots, meaning Brady, threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns against the Broncos.
The Pats do have more offensive tools, and probably better mismatches situations, and have to be considered the favorites to win the game. A better record and the Ravens shaky away from home, you gotta go with Belichick and Brady, right? Well, it’s about the start in my opinion, and the first quarter will decide the winner. If the Patriots get things going quickly, meaning two touchdowns in the 1st quarter, it’s over. If the Ravens can hold that offense at bay and not enter a chase mode, which they have no chance of winning with, I’m taking Baltimore.