2012 AFC Championship Preview: Baltimore Ravens Vs. New England Patriots
Here’s the scoop:
New England Patriots Offense:
Any talk about the Patriots' offense begins and ends with Tom Brady.
When he’s at his best, he’s quite simply the best of all-time and no, this is not up for discussion. This is a unique year, however, because Brady has something that he has never had: three un-coverable weapons to throw to. Randy Moss and Wes Welker were absolutely wicked together, but hindsight has proved that Moss was a one-trick pony and Welker has always been marginalized by double teams.
In Welker, Rob “The Good” Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez, Brady has an unstoppable trio that, with a 2012 title, will officially go down as one of the best in NFL history. With their success, they are literally changing the game. Belichick has been running a hybrid spread/pro-style offense for awhile now, but two unstoppable tight ends and a slot-machine receiver has taken things to a whole new level. Now is as good a time as any to take the opportunity to acknowledge New England’s offensive greatness by blessing Brady and his triple threat with the most simple and awesome nickname ever: “Checkmate."
New England Patriots Defense:
Belichick and his defenses don’t care about giving up yards, they only care about giving up touchdowns.
The five rings on the coach's fingers (three with the Pats and two as the New York Giants Defensive Coordinator) are a testament to the fact that this is a viable strategy. All the lazy pundits that have interns doing their work for them are having a jolly good time laughing at the Patriots’ 31st ranked defense, but for anyone who actually watches the games and analyzes the numbers a little deeper, it’s obvious that the Pats get stops when they need them.
The defense was 31st in total yards given up, but were a more than presentable 15th in points scored against. That means that teams marched down the field against the Pats and then settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. Look for the Ravens offense to suffer the same fate.
Baltimore Ravens Offense:
The collective groan fans inevitably hear when watching a Ravens game is due to one of two things. It’s either the noise Ravens’ fans make every time Joe Flacco misses an open receiver, or it’s the noise female fans make the first time they see Flacco’s ridiculous mustache.
Either way, Off-Broadway Joe has left fans unimpressed in 2011, and they aren’t the only ones gasping at his performances.
Future Hall of Fame safety and teammate Ed Reed took time out of his busy schedule to point out that Flacco looked rattled against the Houston Texans and would have to be a lot better if they were to beat New England. The part he conveniently left out is that Flacco flat out stinks on the road. The Ravens were 4-4 away from home, including losses to the lowly Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks. Combine that with the fact that Flacco turned in one of the worst performances by any playoff QB ever last time he was in Foxboro (34 yards passing and one interception--yes, you read that right) and suddenly Reed’s comments don’t seem all that inflammatory. Unless the Ravens score first and go over 30 points this week (something they haven’t done since Week 11), their prospects look pretty bleak.
Baltimore Ravens Defense:
The Ravens need to score more than 30 points to win this game and need to do it without counting on anything from Joe Flacco.
How do the Ravens do that? Simple: Score on defense, a lot.
They had four takeaways last week, which is promising, but that was against a guy named T.J. Yates. The Ravens are going to need a scoop-and-score or a pick-six this week just to have a chance in this one and they’d be better off getting a little bit of both. Terrell Suggs is going to have to wreak havoc. Lardarius Webb is going to have to have an interception or two, and a kick return to the house wouldn’t hurt, if only to put points on the board and keep Flacco off the field at the same time. On top of that, Ed Reed has to be 100% healthy and dominant if the Ravens are going to get this thing done.
That’s a lot of ifs. The one thing Baltimore definitely has going for them is they have a better overall special teams unit, but it won’t matter if they can’t get and keep Brady off the field.
Tom Brady hears the nonsense about how Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are his equals and this is the perfect opportunity, and year, to put that kind of talk to rest. He is not going to miss a chance to win a Super Bowl in Indianapolis and leave his quasi-rival Manning in the dust (possibly whipping Manning's little brother in the process and avenging his only Super Bowl loss too). Brady is 4-1 all-time against the Ravens and he makes it 5-1 this weekend. Final Score: 35-21, Patriots. Next stop: Indy. Then, Canton. Checkmate.
Here's what the rest of the Neon Tommy sports staff expects:
Jeremy Bergman: Ravens 26, Patriots 24
Aaron Fischman: Patriots 27, Ravens 17
Jacob Freedman: Patriots 34, Ravens 23
Danny Lee: Patriots 30, Ravens 16
Sara Ramsey: Patriots 31, Ravens 21
Will Robinson: Patriots 34, Ravens 21
Kate Rooney: Patriots 24, Ravens 16
James Santelli: Ravens 20, Patriots 14
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