On paper, the New England Patriots hold the advantage in nearly every position on the field, not to mention home field advantage where they hardly ever lose in the playoffs. That doesn’t frighten the Baltimore Ravens, headed into another AFC Championship game, feeling it’s going to be different this time.
For the first time in 25 years, the AFC title game is a repeat from the previous season. Tom Brady had one of his worst playoff performances, throwing two interceptions against a Ravens defense that knows how to get to him, or at least make it hard for him to be himself. It was more of a Ravens loss, 20-23, than the Patriots actually winning the game.
All the “heroes” from that ending – Lee Evans not hanging on to the ball in the end zone, Billy Cundiff missing the field goal, Sterling Moore who made the defensive play, are no longer with the Ravens and Patriots.
The Ravens are very good in stopping and slowing down a passing game, although Tom Brady is a different story. Still, in the regular season on a Sunday Night game in Baltimore, they succeeded in allowing Brady just one touchdown throw as the Ravens won 31-30. Joe Flacco, for a second consecutive time, outplayed a quarterback from the creme de la creme of the NFL.
One of the keys is always making life hard for the quarterback, but the Ravens kept Joe Flacco mostly untouched in the win against the Denver Broncos last week. The Patriots didn’t sack Matt Schaub once in their win against the Texans, which might prove to be a problem if Flacco feels very comfortable in getting his play-action going. Stopping Ray Rice from getting early yards is also quite an important figure on the Pats’ playbooks. Rice, running for 101 yards in the win against the Patriots and 131 yards against the Broncos needs to get his touches. The Patriots are one of the best in stuffing the run this season. That battle is another one that might decide the game.
For the Patriots, the offense is pretty simple – make Brady play an up-tempo one, taking advantage of all the weapons at his disposal. Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen, who made himself known with an impressive three touchdown game against the Texans.
Maybe turnovers will be the decider, as they usually are: The Patriots have won 10 straight games when winning the turnover battle. The last time the Patriots won the turnover battle and lost the game was their Week 3 loss to the Ravens.
Prediction – The Baltimore Ravens have the right kind of personnel and system to make the Patriots uncomfortable. The last couple of games between them could have gone either way, usually decided by one play, one mistake. This time, for the second time this season, it goes the Ravens’ direction.