While there may be sexier matchups on paper for the 2013 AFC Championship Game, the battle between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots is the kind of postseason clash all NFL fans dream of.
These two perennial Super Bowl contenders are both vying for history once again, but there are many more questions heading into this meeting than in years past. Baltimore has a real chance to travel to Foxborough and shock the Patriots.
As talented as both teams are, there is no questioning that each has at least one major fundamental flaw that can be exploited by their opponent.
The team that takes advantage of their opponent’s biggest weakness first will have the distinct advantage on the field and will be in ideal position to capitalize with a victory.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Audio Pass
Listen: 97.9 ROCK (Baltimore) or WBZ 98.5 FM (New England)
Spread: New England -8 (via Vegas Insider)
Baltimore Ravens’ Biggest Weakness: Stopping the Run
While the return of a legendary run-stopping middle linebacker Ray Lewis has helped the failing run-stopping effort in Baltimore, the Ravens issues against the rush go much deeper than just one player.
Lewis still has great anticipation reading the run, but he lacks the elite speed he once possessed and has been beaten in open space at times this season.
A running back like Patriots star Stevan Ridley that can get into the second level and outmaneuver everyone will leave the run-stoppers for Baltimore in the dust. That includes the future Hall of Fame linebacker.
The Ravens were ranked 20th in the NFL during the regular season after giving up 122.8 yards per game on the ground, and that’s good news for a New England team that is red hot rushing the ball.
Between Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen last week against the tough Houston Texans defense, the duo ran the ball 22 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns. If the pair can put up those numbers Sunday, the Ravens are in serious trouble.
Baltimore’s run defense will have to be legendary to walk out of New England with a win.
New England Patriots’ Biggest Weakness: The Secondary
New England is one of the best overall franchises in terms of raw talent across the board, but there are serious fundamental flaws in the defensive secondary for the Patriots.
With Joe Flacco and the Baltimore pass attack playing amazing over the first two weeks of the postseason (613 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions), the Ravens will put up huge chunks of yardage against New England’s porous secondary.
The Patriots were ranked 29th in the league this regular season against the pass—allowing 271.4 yards per game—and while New England beat Houston in the Divisional Round, Matt Schaub and the Texans' pass attack still managed 343 yards and two touchdowns.
Flacco has much better weapons in the pass attack than Schuab had last week, so the Patriots are on high alert against stars like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and pass-catching running back Ray Rice.
Add in a pair of tight ends (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta) that can play down the seam and beat the mediocre coverage linebackers from New England, and you have a serious fundamental flaw that could cost the Patriots a Super Bowl berth.