Quickly, name the five most important players for the Baltimore Ravens' chance for victory in Sunday's match against the New England Patriots.
I'll give you a few seconds.
Who did you come up with?
You might have named a few players on the offense. Joe Flacco or Torrey Smith might spring to mind. Ray Rice is another name I'd expect to see on many lists.
Chances are you'll have also picked some players on the defensive side of things. Bernard "Patriot Hunter" Pollard, Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb will have to step up and stop Rob Gronkowski and Co. I'd expect the most common name to be Haloti Ngata, and I want to talk about him for a little bit.
We all know Tom Brady hates it when he gets hit a lot (not that I blame him), and when his passing lanes are disrupted. The Arizona Cardinals did an excellent job of exploiting this, and we even saw a bit of this during last season's AFC Championship Game.
Without Terrell Suggs, a pass rush has to come somewhere. Throw in the fact that the Patriots' interior offensive line is their' biggest weakness, and the game plan pretty much writes itself.
Ngata is a 340-pound Tongan defensive end who can burst through linemen and basically has no weakness.
A lot of the articles you'll see between now and Sunday will mention him in some way—how the Patriots must contain him or how the Ravens have to release The Kraken.
One player I think many of these articles will overlook is Pernell McPhee. I'll make that name into a subheading in case you're only skimming this article for my underrated player. Let it never be said that I'm not a nice guy.
McPhee weighs about 50 pounds less than Ngata and is fairly unpolished, but still a competent pass-rusher.
While Ngata will draw a lot of attention, McPhee also needs a big game. He had his struggles last week, but Tom Brady likes to have his feet positioned so he can lob passes down the field, and he does that very well. He's a great passer, but ultimately a static one.
If McPhee can get some pressure on Brady—picking up sacks, getting his hands into the passing lanes, flushing him out of the pocket or even making him look over his shoulder before passing—the Patriots' offense will struggle.
A big game will also give him a leg up over fellow defensive end Arthur Jones in the competition for the starting role alongside Ngata.
If the Ravens can get one of the defensive ends to constantly pressure Brady, that will give them an advantage. If they can get two to apply pressure, it could be a long night for Bill Belichick's team.
Of course, an honorable mention should go to Justin Tucker if the game comes down to a chip shot.
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