The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in another high stakes playoff game with the winner heading to the AFC Championship game in 8 days time. The Ravens are one of the only teams in recent memory to walk in to Foxborough and enjoy great success with two playoff victories over the Patriots in the 2012 season when they went on to win the Super Bowl and back on the 10th January 2010 when they dismantled New England 33-14. 5 years later and these two teams are going to lock horns once again with both hoping that today’s game will be the catalyst for a run to the Super Bowl.
Both Baltimore and New England have faced adversity this year and both have shut up their critics which is what makes this game so exciting as well as so tough to predict. The Ravens went in to Pittsburgh last week and knocked off their biggest rivals in the wild card round 30-17 when many predicted they would fail. In recent years we’ve seen how wild card teams get hot at the right time and go on a run whereas teams with a bye sometimes struggle to shake off the rust of not playing and pay the price with a sluggish performance. This was something that happened once or twice to the Indianapolis Colts in the Dungy-Manning era but for Belichick’s Patriots you can be assured that his team will be fired up and ready to go.
Tom Brady said the other day that this is the 2014 Patriots vs the 2014 Ravens each with their own unique identity and whilst I completely agree with that assessment let’s be honest Brady himself, Belichick and the whole of the Patriots locker room definitely won’t be short of motivation when it comes to facing Baltimore. The thought of defeating an old enemy one more time is something that Brady and Belichick will be eager to do but it won’t be easy and even ‘Terrific Tom’ himself hasn’t been particularly terrific in past meetings with the Ravens as he has thrown 3 touchdowns to 7 interceptions in the teams last 3 playoff meetings.
Flacco on the other hand has been a worthy adversary for Brady and co as you can see from the stats above so it is safe to assume that today’s game will be a close duel once again. The difference this time round for New England is that this is the best defense hands down since 2007/2008 and in my opinion this is the best overall roster since then as well which is what makes me believe that New England will find a way to get the job done tonight. Joe Flacco has been incredible in the post season and since he entered the league in 2008 he has proven himself to be a very good quarterback but the physicality and natural ability of this Patriots defense that possesses so many game changers will be something Flacco hasn’t faced before in Foxborough.
We’re talking about Flacco facing past defenses that have had Ras-I Dowling on the roster, Sterling Moore who basically made a once in a lifetime in the Patriots’ lone win against Flacco in the postseason and that year Julian Edelman even lined up as a corner in the Super Bowl which says it all about how the Pats were struggling on defense as they did rank 31st that year too. The defense now has Devin McCourty excelling after switching to safety and is one of the best in the league with Patrick Chung, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan and the gem of the secondary Darrelle Revis who has proven himself to be the best corner in the league not named Richard Sherman. Up front you have Vince Wilfork who has bounced back from a season ending achilles injury last season with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich both capable of generating a pass rush as well as stopping the run and then at linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are phenomenal young players with so much potential who are already two of the main players and leaders of this New England defense.
Jamie Collins is one of the best young players I’ve seen in recent memory and number 91 can do practically anything from man coverage to zone, dropping back to cover the pass as well as stopping the run. He makes big plays, sniffs out the danger, forces turnovers and quite frankly he has the speed, talent and intelligence to be one of the best linebackers in football. With a physical secondary along with other players we’ve mentioned including the tandem of Collins and Hightower the Patriots can disrupt the Ravens offense just like their old defenses have done in the past to Tom Brady. Defense wins championships and although it is an old sporting cliche quite honestly more often than not it is proven to be true but when you have an offense led by Tom Brady and a healthy Rob Gronkowski well that does certainly help.
The Patriots will be raring to go and I stand by my bold statement that if Gronk is healthy the Pats will win the Super Bowl. He is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses and I’m sure coordinators lose sleep over thinking of ways to try and stop him or if it is even remotely possible. Gronk’s ability to make big plays, draw double coverage which makes Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell become so effective and his ability to block in the running game proves why he is the most valuable player to the Patriots. The running game will be key tonight as if the Patriots get it going it will make the passing game run more effectively which will give Tom Brady the opportunities to pick holes in a Ravens secondary that has obvious weaknesses. History may not bode very well for New England against Baltimore but the past is the past for a reason as the 2014 Patriots are equipped to go all the way this year and end a 10 year wait for a 4th Lombardi; if they do their jobs tonight they’ll be one game away from a 6th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick era.
Prediction: Ravens 23-31 Patriots
|Belichick could get his 20th win in the postseason tonight which would leave him tied for 1st all-time