AFC Championship: 5 Patriots Baltimore Has to Control

Jordan CalfeeCorrespondent IIIJanuary 18, 2012

AFC Championship: 5 Patriots Baltimore Has to Control

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    The Baltimore Ravens have certain New England Patriots players they must focus on in the AFC Championship Game this weekend if they are going to win. From Tom Brady and Wes Welker to Rob Gronkowski and Vince Wilfork, the Patriots have a number of elite players on their roster.

    If the Ravens are going to reproduce the success they had two years ago against the Patriots in the postseason, they will have to focus on these playmakers and shut them down. Here are the five New England Patriots John Harbaugh's crew will have to stop if the Ravens are going to make it to Super Bowl XLVI.

Tom Brady

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    Need I say more? Three Super Bowl victories, seven Pro Bowls and two NFL and Super Bowl MVP awards.

    Some people were questioning Brady's ability to still perform in the postseason after the New England Patriots went three straight seasons without winning a playoff game, and then he answered with a record-setting performance in the dismantling of the Denver Broncos.

    Stopping the Patriots obviously starts with stopping Brady. He is one of the best clutch quarterbacks of all time.

Rob Gronkowski

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    The most dangerous weapon at Tom Brady's disposal is actually a tight end. Rob Gronkowski is a first-team All-Pro this year, which is not surprising considering he had 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.

    Gronkowski was huge in the New England Patriots victory in the divisional round. The Denver Broncos had no answer for him, as he went off for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

    Not only is Gronkowski built like a Mack Truck (6'6'', 250 lbs), he also is an excellent route runner and has some of the best hands in the NFL.

    The Ravens will have to use something other than a linebacker to keep Gronkowski from killing them like he did the Broncos.

Wes Welker

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    With Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco both in the twilight of their respective NFL careers, the best wide receiver on the New England Patriots is Wes Welker.

    Welker was also a first-team All-Pro this season. He had an astounding 122 receptions on the season for a career-high 1,569 yards.

    Welker is perhaps as dangerous as any receiver in the NFL. He's very fast, he's elusive, and he's got great hands. And his position as a slot receiver makes him very hard to cover.


Aaron Hernandez

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    The only thing that kept tight end Aaron Hernandez out of the Pro Bowl this season was his teammate at the same position, Rob Gronkowski.

    Hernandez is not as big as Gronkowski, but he's faster and just as dangerous. He had 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns on the year.

    The Baltimore Ravens will have to focus on defending both the New England Patriots' tight ends if they want to win this game. Especially considering the fact that in recent weeks, the Patriots have added a wrinkle where they use Hernandez in the running game. Hernandez rushed for 61 yards against the Denver Broncos.

Vince Wilfork

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    The New England Patriots have a dearth of premier talent on their defense. The Patriots ranked 31st in the NFL this season in both total and passing defense.

    However, they were considerably better against the run, ranking 17th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. A big reason for this was the strength of the defensive line. Andre Carter had an excellent season, but the real anchor of the defense is the Patriots' other Pro Bowler on the line, Vince Wilfork.

    Wilfork is massive at 6'2'', 325 pounds, and he moves surprisingly well for a guy that big. He proved his athleticism this season with his two interceptions.

    The Baltimore Ravens offensive line has to keep Wilfork from pushing them around if they want to have offensive success in the AFC Championship Game.