Rob Gronkowski could have another big day against the Ravens
Rob Parker of ESPN, a documented Boston sports hater, will have you believe that the New England Patriots' line over the Ravens of 7.5 points in the upcoming AFC Championship game is much too high. His only rationale? The 2009 Patriots-Ravens Wild Card game, when the Ravens came into Foxborough and thumped the Pats 33-14.
I'm here to tell you why that argument is invalid and wafer-thin.
The 2009 Patriots' offense came into the postseason, hobbling on a broken passing game that had lost its leading receiver in Wes Welker and that had no legitimate receiving threat other than Randy Moss. Their No. 2 receiver in that game: Sam Aiken, who caught one ball for three yards in the game.
The Patriots fielded none of their four leading receivers that day (Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Branch), and their offensive philosophy was so dissimilar to their current scheme that any comparison is completely unwarranted. The Patriots were a team in shambles offensively, completely relying on Moss as their lone threat going into that game.
A more accurate barometer of the Patriots' potential performance against the Ravens would be their most recent matchup, the 2010 regular season game, again, in Foxborough. The Patriots won that game, 23-20, with Deion Branch torching the Ravens' D for nine catches, 98 yards and a score.
That was a game in which Wes Welker was unhealthy, still recovering from a torn ACL he had suffered eight months prior (an injury many believed would keep him out of the majority of the 2010 season), and a game in which both elite tight ends were playing only their sixth professional game.
What will the outcome of the game be?
The Patriots had traded Randy Moss the week before, completely renovating their offensive scheme, and still managed to put up 394 yards on the Ravens' vaunted defense.
Against the only top 10 offense the Ravens' D faced this year, they gave up 34 points and 415 yards.
Flacco had a good day against the Patriots, going 27/35 for 281 yards and two touches. Ray Rice, however, was not as successful, rushing 28 times for 88 yards, only a 3.1 ypg average. Against the Houston Texans on Saturday, Flacco and Rice led the Ravens' offense to an anemic three points in the final 46 minutes of the game, after scoring 17 points in the first 14 on short fields. No matter what caliber defense you're facing, the leaders of an NFL attack should be able to produce more than that.
The Patriots' defense is no Houston, but if they're even half as effective against the Ravens as the Texans were, this game could get out of hand quickly, especially if Flacco performs as badly as he has on the road this season (78.1 passer rating) and as he has in his eight career playoff games (66.2 rating, six touchdowns, seven interceptions).
Couple all of that with the fact that the Ravens have gone 4-4 on the road this season, and the line of 7.5 might actually be too low, rather than too high, as Rob Parker so unabashedly purports.