The Baltimore Ravens may be the sentimental favorites to win because of Ray Lewis' final run, but the New England Patriots will change the AFC playoffs from a feel-good story into reality TV.
No team is playing better against top competition in the last eight weeks. They are 3-1 against playoff teams in that time, with the only loss coming in a 41-34 home defeat to the San Francisco 49ers.
Tom Brady is clearly the most important player on the team, but the other factors in the Pats' success are balance on offense and a run-stuffing defense.
The combination of the two will be too much for the Ravens.
Too Many Weapons
The 523 rushing attempts the Patriots offense accumulated this season was the most since the 2004 Super Bowl campaign.
The only other time they even ran the ball 500 times in a season in the last eight years was in 2008, and that was the season Matt Cassel took over for an injured Tom Brady in Week 1.
The balance has been huge for the Patriots. They were fourth in the NFL in passing, but they were also seventh in the league in rushing.
It is the most complete offense the team has had since Brady became a true superstar.
Even with Rob Gronkowski being lost for the rest of the postseason, and with Shane Vereen filling in for Danny Woodhead, the Pats still racked up 41 points against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
The passing game truly feeds off the run this season.
Baltimore still struggles to stop the run consistently. Despite a few key stops against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, they still allowed 125 rushing yards. on Saturday.
They were 20th in the NFL against the run with 122.8 yards allowed per game.
Unless they can find a way to channel the spirit of Ravens defenses past, the Pats can have success against them on the ground.
Big Vince Forces Teams to Run Wide
Vince Wilfork leads a Patriots run defense that stuffs most inside run attempts. Most of the Texans' successful rushing attempts came on tosses and stretch plays to the outside.
Arian Foster had a solid day with 90 yards rushing, but being forced to run wide limited some of the effectiveness and took some play-action plays out of the playbook.
New England was ranked ninth in the NFL against the run in the regular season, and I expect them to continue to shine in that area.
If they can take away the same plays against Ray Rice and the Ravens, it will hurt Joe Flacco's ability to use play action to find Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin deep.
The ability to control the run with the front seven also allows the Patriots to commit safeties to help over the top.
To beat the Patriots you have to be able to stop the run, and you have to keep the defense guessing; the Ravens won't accomplish either goal.
New England will be making their sixth Super Bowl appearance in 12 years.
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