It's easy to focus on the New England Patriots' explosive offense this season, but their defense will be the difference in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The Patriots averaged 34.8 points during the regular season (tops in the league), but they also allowed just 20.7 points per game (tied for ninth).
New England has been solid against the run all season long (3.9 yards per carry allowed, sixth in the NFL), but the pass defense has also stepped up down the stretch.
In the 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans in the divisional round, quarterback Matt Schaub was held to 6.7 yards per pass attempt and the Texans went 4-of-15 on third downs.
Once again, the Patriots won the turnover battle in that game. They posted the best turnover differential in the NFL this season (plus-25) and forced the most turnovers in the AFC (41). Therefore, it was hardly a surprise that they forced a turnover against the Texans without committing one of their own.
Will the New England defense step up in the AFC Championship Game?
There's also the fact that New England tends to get off to quick leads in ballgames, which inevitably forces the other team to start throwing the ball at some point. The Patriots notched 20 interceptions this season (tied for fifth in the NFL); it's much easier to pick off a pass when you're waiting for it.
The last time Joe Flacco faced New England, he led the Ravens to a 31-30 victory in Week 3 while tossing for 382 yards and notching three touchdowns to one interception. However, this is a different New England pass defense than Flacco faced before, and it will show on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Baltimore deserves to be in the AFC Championship Game, and Flacco, Ray Rice and company won't go down without a fight. However, the Patriots have the defense to complement their offense this season and that will boost them to Super Bowl XLVII.
What are your thoughts?