By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are coming off of an impressive 45-10 victory against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last weekend, and this Sunday they play for the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on WBZ Channel 4 at 3:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
The Ravens are coming off of a 20-13 home victory against the Houston Texans. It was a defensive battle in this game, and the home team made more plays to get the victory, and move on to face the Patriots.
On offense, the Ravens have a great running back in Ray Rice who has the ability to not only break the long run, but to hurt you on screens in the passing game. Rice ran for 1364 yards, and 12 touchdowns this season. He will be a huge challenge for the Patriots defense to contain.
The wild-card for the offense has to be quarterback Joe Flacco. His issue can be with confidence in the pocket and accuracy. His completion percentage this regular season was only 57.6 percent, and he will have to be better against the Patriots.
On defense, the Ravens are definitely one of the best units in the NFL. They have play-makers at all three levels. On the defensive line you have defensive end Haloti Ngata who is a force, and he will have to be controlled.
The player the Patriots need to limit his effectiveness has to be Terrell Suggs who had 14 sacks this season. He can get after the quarterback, and is always looking to make an impact. You also cannot forget about middle linebacker Ray Lewis who is the leader of the defense. He might be getting older, but he is someone to still fear.
In the defensive backfield, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have to know at all times where safety Ed Reed is on the field. He is a true play-maker who can take over a game. He is dealing with an injury, but is expected to play, and the Patriots will have to keep an eye on him.
The Ravens deserve to be in the AFC Championship game, and are definitely a true test for the Patriots. This is a contrast in styles between the two teams, and it should be fun to see how this game shakes out. However, in the end I feel the Patriots will be the team standing with the victory.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
Danny Woodhead could be an ‘X-Factor’ in this game. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
1. The offensive line needs to protect Tom Brady at a maximum level. I think this is the most important key to the game.
If Brady has the proper time to find his receivers, the Patriots will score at a very good level. Matt Light will have his hands full with Suggs, but the line will have to deal with Ngata as well coming up the middle. This is the true test of the game.
2. The Patriots offense needs other players to be options for Brady rather than just the tight ends and Wes Welker. The Ravens defense will make every effort to take away the Patriots three top weapons in the passing game.
The Patriots need some dark-horse x-factors to step up in this game. I see the potential of Danny Woodhead to play a role in this game. He had a great game the last time these teams played last season. He could have some key yards in the running game on draws.
Deion Branch also had a huge game against the Ravens, and he more than likely will be single covered. Branch has had a knack for stepping up in big games. The AFC Championship game is a great time for Branch to have one of those games.
3.The Red Zone defense needs to force the Ravens into field goals instead of touchdowns. This was a key last week as well. If you can be tough on defense when the Ravens enter the red-zone, it could sway the balance of the game if you are holding the Ravens to field goals.
4. Linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung need to make their presence known in this game. The Patriots defense has been average this season, but there is no question that they are better when Chung and Spikes are in the lineup.
I think they will be a huge help containing Rice in the running game, but both players can come in on a blitzes, and wouldn’t be shocked to see that on Sunday on passing downs.
5. The Patriots need to pressure Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. I have seen Flacco get rattled in the pocket when he has some heat on him. I think it is imperative to pressure him for all four quarters, similar to how the Patriots defense got after Tim Tebow last week.
They need to do it by changing coverages, and bringing on the blitzes at different times during the game. He can get happy feet back there, and this is another way for the Patriots to take control of this game. The defense needs to make Flacco as uncomfortable as possible.
As I stated earlier, the Ravens are a very good football team, and will push the Patriots hard in this game. However, I expect the Patriots to score enough points to really put the pressure on the Ravens to match them point for point. I don’t expect their offense being able to do it for four quarters, and I am a predicting a 28-16 Patriots victory over the Ravens.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.