On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will square off for the right to represent the AFC in the 2013 Super Bowl. It's a rematch of last season's conference championship game, which the Patriots won 23-20 due in part to a missed game-tying field-goal attempt by Baltimore's Billy Cundiff as time expired.
New England has changed drastically since that game, however, especially on the defensive side. Midway through the season, the Patriots acquired Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the cornerback has heavily bolstered what used to be a weak Patriots secondary.
The former Kansas Jayhawk made an immediate impact for New England. In his first game as a Patriot, Talib intercepted an Andrew Luck pass and brought it 59 yards back for a touchdown.
Last week, Talib had the responsibility of covering one of the leagues most dynamic receivers in Andre Johnson. He was able to keep Johnson out of the end zone and came through with a season-high 10 total tackles in the Patriots' commanding 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans.
In the Week 3 loss to Baltimore, the Patriots let Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco pass for an astonishing 382 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdown passes went to Torrey Smith, who gathered 127 yards receiving.
Flacco also surpassed 300 yards in last season's conference championship, and he nearly threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Lee Evans. The pass was knocked out of Evans' hands by New England's Sterling Moore.
With Talib in the secondary, however, Flacco may not have as much success picking apart the Patriots defense. In the divisional-round win over Houston last week, the Patriots did not give up a single pass play of over 30 yards.
Bringing in Talib to play cornerback has allowed New England to do much more defensively. It allowed the the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety, a position where he has had recent success. Also, safety Steve Gregory and rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have become significant factors for the Pats since the acquisition of Talib.
Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and has had much success against New England recently. However, Baltimore will have to factor Talib into its game plan this time around.