Who says it's not the early 2000s? Tom Brady and Ray Lewis will face off in the AFC Championship, pitting New England's high-powered offense against Baltimore's physical defense. Unlike the Giants vs. 49ers NFC Championship matchup, which is a battle between similar foes, this game will be an exciting test of supercharged offense against hard-nosed defense.
The New England Patriots have the NFL's best offense. Tom Brady remains football's best quarterback (no disrespect to Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees) and his plethora of weapons includes Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch. But, the Patriots' defense is not exactly world-class. They were dominant against the Broncos but that was largely a matchup issue; Tim Tebow could not complete a pass for three quarters and the Patriots just loaded 8 or 9 men in the box on every down to stop the running game. The Ravens have a deep threat passer in Joe Flacco and a dynamic running back in Ray Rice so applying that kind of one-dimensional approach will not work in this game. To win, the Patriots will have to successfully bring pressure without blitzing, which New England's defense has had trouble with all season.
The Ravens have the AFC's most consistent defense. Baltimore is also the NFL's most balanced team; even though their defense still dominates the headlines Baltimore's offense is quite capable. But, the Ravens will have to be more consistent than they were against the Texans because Tom Brady will not throw three interceptions or squander opportunities like rookie T.J. Yates. If Baltimore is to win, they will need to control the time of possession battle by establishing the run game, tiring the Patriots' defense, and then exposing their weak secondary when they fail to effectively apply pressure on Joe Flacco.
Two years ago, the Ravens came into Foxborough as an underdog and crushed New England. This Baltimore team is as good, if not better, than the 2009 version but I think fans will see a different result this week. Tom Brady looks as driven as I've ever seen him and I am not sure even the Ravens have the defensive playmakers to stop his offense. If the Patriots score early and score often, which has been their trademark all season, then it will be difficult for Baltimore's offense to keep up with them and win the game.
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