Sports prognosticators and talking heads love looking into the past to help them determine the future. The AFC Championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots is no different.
Much of the talk this week on the Internet and through the airwaves is about how the Ravens manhandled the Patriots 33-14 in the 2009 playoffs. For some of the so-called experts, that game somehow gives pertinent insight into next weekends' AFC title tilt.
They couldn't be further from the mark.
Because of all of the changes that occur year to year, it's near folly to think that what happened six weeks ago, let alone what happened two years ago, automatically tells you how things will play out. Pats fans only have to go back to last year's playoff game against the New York Jets to see how wrongheaded it is to think that the past predicts the future.
Indeed, thinking the Ravens-Patriots previous matchup has any relevancy to this year's AFC championship game is only slightly less foolish than believing that Bill Belichick has working knowledge of the Ravens organization because he coached the team back when they were the Cleveland Browns.
Today's NFL must be measured in dog years, where one year is equivalent to seven. Two years might as well be 14 when applied to this game as much has changed since the last time these two teams met.
Last time these two teams met, Wes Welker wasn't on the field. The week prior against the Houston Texans he tore up his ACL and MCL. It was one of those "I told you so" moments for Belichick's harshest critics, many of whom think that he foolishly plays key personnel in meaningless situations.
On this occasion, they may have been right.
During the regular season, Welker was the main part of the Pats offense, catching 123 passes for 1,348 yards. Therefore, his absence in the game against the Ravens couldn't be understated.
Although Julian Edelman filled in admirably in that game with two touchdown catches, it wasn't enough to overcome the void left by Welker's injury.
Welker is healthy and playing this weekend.
Instead of coordinating the Pats high-powered offense in 2009, Josh McDaniels was destroying his reputation after a tumultuous first year as head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Those who think that not having McDaniels that year was no big deal for the Patriots should consider this: McDaniels was the offensive coordinator when the Pats offense set numerous NFL records in 2007.
Furthermore, McDaniels played an integral part developing Matt Cassel—who never started in college—and turning him into a viable starting quarterback in the NFL.
Anyone that watched the Pats offense in 2009 could see the difference without McDaniels. Although the offense was still fairly formidable that year—ranking sixth in the NFL in total yards—it had become somewhat predictable.
McDaniels probably had some of his fingerprints on last week's game plan against the Denver Broncos and will more than likely have a bigger role this week against the Ravens.
The '09 season was Tom Brady's first full year back after the devastating knee injury that forced him out in '08.
Brady's numbers in '09 were strong (4,398 yards, 28 TD, 92.6 QB rating), but were a far cry from his record-setting year in '07.
His performance against the Ravens in that '09 matchup was erratic. Brady barely completed 50-percent of his passes (23/42) and threw three interceptions to go along with his two touchdown passes.
Since that game, Brady has elevated his play back to '07 levels, throwing for 9,135 yards and 75 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Last week against the Broncos, Brady set an NFL record with five first-half touchdown passes.
Although the Ravens receivers played absolutely no role the last time these two teams met (Joe Flacco completed only four passes), the current Ravens receiving corps looks completely different than the one that played then.
In '09, the Ravens had Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap and Kelley Washington.
This year, the Ravens have Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta and Lee Evans.
The quarterback is still the same, however, so I'm not sure how much difference the change in personnel will make this weekend.
Oh, yes—Randy Moss.
Not that long ago, Randy Moss was the toast of the town in New England. In '07, Moss caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns.
During the '09 campaign, Moss was still solid, catching 83 balls for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Yet, the true Moss was starting to surface. His poisonous ways continued into the '10 season before he was finally traded to the Minnesota Vikings.
Moss represented all that was wrong with Pats in '09. His attitude was a microcosm of much of the Pats' locker room that year.
Thankfully, he is gone and forgotten.
In 2009, the "Patriot Way" took a hit. The roster was filled with underachievers and malcontents who rolled their eyes and snickered when the "Patriot Way" was mentioned.
Adalius Thomas, Shawn Springs, Derrick Burgess, Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Ben Watson, Brandon Meriweather and, of course, the aforementioned Randy Moss have all been cleansed from the Pats like a much-needed colonic.
They've been replaced by a young group of guys that may be flawed, particularly on the defensive side, but who buy into Belichick's way of doing things. This current group understands that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The '11 edition of the Pats may lose to the Ravens, but they definitely won't roll over and die like the '09 team did.
Regardless of how you feel about Ray Lewis, you have to respect the man's intensity. Lewis is the heart and soul of the Ravens.
That being said, Lewis is slightly older now (36) than he was in '09 and is coming off an injury-plagued regular season.
Ed Reed was the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. Some consider him the greatest free safety of all time.
Reed is 33 years old. Last week, he injured his ankle in the playoff game against the Texans. The X-ray results came back negative, but you have to wonder how much it will affect his play.
True, Reed was injured in the '09 game with a pinched nerve in his neck. But since then, he has added hip surgery and the aforementioned bum ankle to go along with the pinched nerve.
Can the aging (and injured) Lewis and Reed be effective against the Pats no-huddle offense, which completely decimated a younger Broncos defense?
In 2009, the Patriots didn't have the services of the fantastic Chad Ochocinco. Having thought that they were finally rid of him after he left the Bengals, the Raven must once again contend with the greatness that is Ochocinco.
Actually, the only purpose of this slide is to point out what a COLOSSAL disappointment Ochocinco has been this year. He wasn't a factor in the '09 game and he won't be one this weekend either.
Back in '09, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was just that guy on the roster with a funny last name. Green-Elliis rotted on the bench during the '09 season while Maroney was dancing and pitter-pattering his was out of New England.
During the last Pats-Ravens matchup, Maroney was non-existent, carrying the ball once for a massive two yards. It was Kevin Faulk that got the bulk of carries in that game, rushing 14 times for 52 yards.
Green-Ellis may not be a spectacular back, but he is reliable and almost never turns the ball over, making him the anti-Maroney.
What a difference two years makes. The contrast between the Patriots' situation at tight end in '09 compared to now couldn't be more striking.
In '09, the Pats had Ben Watson and Chris Baker
Now, they have Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Watson and Baker combined for 43 receptions and seven touchdowns in '09. Gronkowski alone accounted for 90 receptions and 17 touchdowns during the regular season.
Hernandez is no slouch either, with 79 receptions and seven touchdowns this year. He also adds a dangerous dimension coming out of the backfield as we saw last week against the Broncos.
Without a doubt, the addition of Gronkowski and Hernandez makes any comparison to the '09 Ravens-Pats matchup completely null and void.