Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
These teams met in Massachusetts in week three of this season. New England won 27-21, thanks to creating more turnovers. It was a heated game that saw injury as well as proud players battling to the end. A repeat seems evident this weekend.
What To Watch From The Patriots
Tom Brady is not only the quarterback, but he is the face of the franchise. He may be the most popular Patriots player ever, and he capped off the season by winning the Comeback Player of the Year Award after missing most of last year because of a major knee injury. The team goes as he goes, which is usually with good results.
New England comes into this game with a few offensive issues vs. a very good Ravens defense. The Patriots will be missing Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker and the 123 receptions he had this season because of a knee injury last week.
Rookie Julian Edelman will take his place, and the team hopes the oft-injured player performs well like he has done when he has been able to play.
New England has a deep stable of running backs, yet none would be categorized as special or even game-changing backs. Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk should all get touches to see who has the hot hand the Patriots need to ensure a better chance of victory.
The pass rush of the team has been steady, and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain came virtually out of nowhere to lead them with 9.5 sacks. A career special teams star, the seventh-year pro has supplied a much needed edge rush. With inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton tackling almost everything that moves, his impact has allowed a mostly young secondary to excel.
What To Watch From The Ravens
When the Ravens are mentioned, their defense is the first topic. Ray Lewis is headed for the Hall Of Fame some day, but the inside linebacker has yet to show any signs of slowing down. He had 133 tackles this year, which led the team.
Strong safety Dawan Landry has also matured into a leader, having 84 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions. The return of free safety Ed Reed is big news for a team needing more time to get to the quarterback this year compared to past seasons.
Baltimore loves to run the ball, and they have three running backs who do it well. Ray Rice was the team's best player this year and is going to the Pro Bowl. He had 1,339 yards on the ground and 72 receptions for 702 yards in the air.
Factor in his 5.27 yards per carry and eight touchdowns, and his abilities are easily seen. Will McGahee is their short yardage guy, and he has scored 14 times. Pro Bowler Le'Ron McClain spent most of this season blocking, but is capable of carrying the load. He had 902 rushing yards last year.
What makes the Ravens go is their offensive line, which is mostly young but has 12-year veteran center Matt Birk leading the way. Rookie Michael Oher and third-year veteran Jared Gaither are a pair of mammoth tackles who allow guards Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda to get to the next level to clear out linebackers for the running game.
The key to the Ravens victory may be the play of cornerbacks Frank Walker, Domonique Foxworth, and Chris Carr. There is little doubt the Pro Bowl combo of Brady to Randy Moss will be used often. Who will be up this task is the question, as is the question of how fully recovered Reed is now.
Quarterback : Edge Patriots
Running Back : Edge Ravens
Receivers : Slight Edge Patriots
Offensive Line : Even
Defensive Line : Slight Edge Ravens
Linebacker : Edge Ravens
Secondary : Edge Patriots
Special Teams : Even
Coaching : Definite Edge Patriots
One thing you can't buy is experience, and the Patriots have a deep roster of players who know how to win in the playoffs.
The Ravens also have a few leaders on defense who know what is like to win it all. If they can get to Brady often, the loss of Welker will be magnified even more.
If the Ravens young offensive line can push the pile, they could run the Patriots into the ground. Yet the Patriots have a Hall Of Fame quarterback who could make the difference in the waning moments.
Patriots 30, Ravens 21