The best playoff rivalry in the NFL over the last few years enters a new chapter as a red hot Joe Flacco and Baltimore Ravens arrive once again in the Northeast to play the New England Patriots with Tom Brady who has turned himself once again from washed up into the quarterback no one wants to face in the playoffs.
The key to this game has to be the Patriots protecting Tom Brady. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked and chased all throughout the game against the Steelers. Without a running game to turn to, he made too many mistakes, while Joe Flacco enjoyed excellent protection and endless time to make his big throws as they came away with a 30-17 win on the road against their division rivals.
The Steelers aren’t the Patriots. New England have turned into a team that’s hard to score against. The additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner has made the secondary very hard to throw again. Combine that with a very big and hard to slow down front line, and you get a team that’s no longer hemorrhaging points and forcing Brady to keep up. The Ravens are one of the best in the NFL in keeping Flacco on his feet, but they’ll probably have to establish the running game with Justin Forsett early to stay away from making tough throws.
Every season is a new story, but when these are the same familiar faces each and every time, it’s good to pay attention to what happened before. With Tom Brady as the quarterback, the Patriots are 11-1 at home in the postseason against everyone but the Ravens. When they have to face Baltimore? Only 1-2, and that one win came only thanks to a missed field goal in the final stretch of the game.
Everything Brady does drops when he faces the Ravens: His completion percentage falls by 8%, and he has just three touchdowns to seven interceptions in the three games. He’s only 7-of-24 on passes for 15 yards or more without a single touchdown pass and five interceptions. The Ravens don’t have the best secondary in the league – far from it, but as their win over the Steelers showed, putting the right kind of pressure on the quarterback and never letting go makes up for it and masks that problem.
And then there’s the Joe Flacco factor, a quarterback who constantly raises the level of his play when he reaches the playoffs. He has been on the winning side in a playoff games 10 times since entering the league in 2008, twice as many as any other quarterback in the league during that span. The Ravens are 7-4 on the road with Flacco as quarterback, more than any other quarterback in the history of NFL playoffs, in wins and games.
Flacco is also carrying a very impressive streak of two touchdown passes or more in seven consecutive postseason games, tied for the all-time high. He had only one such game through his first seven postseason games. Overall, the Ravens are 15-7 in the postseason since 2000, second only to the New England Patriots who are 18-8 with one more Super Bowl victory than the Ravens have had over that time.
The Patriots have passed every test they’ve had this season at home and almost every one of them on the road. The Ravens stammered to the finishing line but seem to be a different beast in the playoffs. Just like in the Steelers game, factoring in strengths and weaknesses seem to favor the home team, but there’s something about the Ravens that often makes them capable of eliminating those obstacles.