For the second consecutive year, the Patriots and Ravens will square off in the AFC Championship with a ticket to the Super Bowl on the line. Last year, the Patriots squeaked out a 23-20 win thanks to old pal Billy “Ray Finkle” Cundiff:
No matter how many times I see that missed kick I will never understand how in the hell he managed to miss that. I will also never stop enjoying the reactions of his teammates on the sidelines, which all pretty much scream “Dude, you had one job….”
Anyways, the Patriots host the Ravens at Gillette Stadium tonight for part deux and both teams come into the game with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. The Ravens come in looking to avenge last year’s chokejob while the Patriots will try to prove they’re a different, much improved team than the one that lost to Baltimore 31-30 in Week 3 this season.
Let’s quickly break down some keys to the game for the Patriots:
Control The Tempo - A huge difference between this year’s Patriots team and the one that beat the Ravens a year ago is their depth and success in the running game. Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen comprise a dangerous three-headed monster in the backfield, and one that will be crucial to dictating the pace of the game and controlling the clock for the Pats, especially if they need to maintain a close lead towards the end of the game.
Contain Ray Rice - Patriots fans need to look no further than the 2009 Wild Card loss to see how deadly Ray Rice can be for the Ravens when on his game. Although the Pats run defense has been very solid all season, Rice ran for over 100 yards on 20 carries back in Week 3 and was a big reason Baltimore was able to pull out a victory. As important as it is for the Pats to run the ball and control the game, it’s also equally as important that they don’t allow Rice and the Ravens to do so either.
Take The Deep Ball Away - Joe Flacco is one of the best deep ball quarterbacks in the league and the Patriots can do themselves a world of good if they can limit him to a short field. The New England secondary is a much better one than the one we saw in Week 3 but they’re going to need to limit the production of Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, which is no easy task. A Patriots pass rush that only got to Matt Schaub once last weekend can also help the second tier by stepping up and not allowing Flacco the time to let routes develop. The Pats might get some additional help from Mother Nature, as it’s expected to be a very windy day at Gillette today.
Open Up The Offensive Arsenal - The Ravens have one of the most experienced and intelligent defenses in the league and one that can throw a lot of different looks schematically at an offense. The Patriots need to be able to counter that by opening up the offense and involving a lot of different guys so that the Ravens can’t key in one specific threat.
Play Fast On Offense - Though the Ravens are experienced and intelligent group on defense, they’re also a pretty old unit. We saw them get tired and sluggish towards the end of last week’s victory over the Broncos and if the Patriots can be successful in their ultra quick hurry-up offense they may be able to drain a lot of energy from the Baltimore D, making them more susceptible to big plays.
If the Patriots can execute on these keys they’ll have a strong likelihood of returning to the Super Bowl in New Orleans this year but, as we’ve seen time and time again, the Ravens are likely going to make them earn that ticket.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 24
Ravens @ Patriots
Time: Sunday, January 20, 2013 – 6:30 PM EST
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