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With eleven days to go before the Pats play again, discussion about the Patriots is starting to dry up. The biggest news over the next 72 hours will be the first round of the 2010-11 NFL playoffs, so I'm going to go ahead and start four threads on each of those games now.
#5 Baltimore Ravens (12-4) at #4 Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Sunday January 9 at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be the announcers on TV
Kevin Harlan, James Lofton and Tony Boselli will do the radio broadcast
Baltimore is currently favored by 3 points
Over under is from 40½ to 41 points
The Money Line has the Ravens -145 to -175; Chiefs +125 to +155
Edit: final results from poll on front page of PatsFans.com - 72% thought the Ravens would win, 28% thought the Chiefs would win.
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I can't help but root for the "Midwest Patriots" in this matchup. Cassel has had a tremendous year, and I'd like to see him have a good playoff performance to validate his season.
Yeah, considering the number of former Patriots in the KC organization - all of whom left on good terms - and contrast that to the comments from Raven players before and after the last few meetings between the Pats and Baltimore - and I would guess the percentage of Pats fans rooting for one team or the other in this game will be overwhelmingly in favor of the Chiefs. The only reason I can think of for a Pats fan to be rooting for Baltimore is so that the Patriots can beat the Ravens again.
1. Flipping the switch: Despite a wealth of talent at the skill positions, a battle tested offensive line and one of the best young QBs in football, the Ravens finished the regular season 16th in points (22.3) and 22nd in total yards (322.9). “I always say we haven’t played our best football yet,” running back Ray Rice said. OK, will we see it in Kansas City?
2. Bowe knows touchdowns:Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe led the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns, which were more than half of QB Matt Cassel’s 27 TD tosses. The Ravens will try to eliminate Bowe from the game plan and make the Chiefs one-dimensional, though that’s far from easy. Bowe isn’t the fastest guy, nor the most physical. The 6-foot-2 wideout simply has good hands and a knack for coming down with the football. “He just knows that when it’s time to go up and get the ball, he’s going to catch it,” explained Ravens cornerback Chris Carr.
3. Charles in charge:Jamaal Charles, K.C’s electric, lightning-quick tailback, finished second in the league with 1,467 yards on the ground. His gaudy 6.4 yards-per-carry average fell just short of Jim Brown’s NFL record. Charles had 10 runs of 20 yards or longer, and his 80-yard run in Week 15 was the NFL’s longest run of 2010. “He can go to the house from anywhere on the field,” safety Ed Reed said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.” Especially with bruising back Thomas Jones (six TDs) waiting on the bench to spell Charles when he needs a breather.
4. He’ll Tamba for you: It took him a few years to come into his own, but Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali has finally lived up to the promise that got him selected in the first round of the 2006 draft. The former defensive end from Penn State led the AFC with 14.5 sacks in 2010. “We’re going to have to account for him up front and make sure we handle it well,” quarterback Joe Flacco, the apple of John Clayton's eye, said. Ravens left tackle Michael Oher will have his hands full trying to keep Hali out of Flacco’s comfort zone.
5. Baltimore’s antique road show: The Ravens are 3-2 in road playoff games under coach John Harbaugh and 6-3 all-time. “Our track record says we’ll play anybody anytime on the road,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Anytime you can pack up a great defense and take it on the road, you have a chance to win.” Even at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs are 7-1 this season? We’ll find out Sunday.
Look at the Chiefs. They've got some talented and explosive players such as receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, running back Jamaal Charles and rookie strong safety Eric Berry. They've got outside linebacker Tamba Hali, but nobody who is going to intimidate you.
There is no one to fear.
They've got guard Brian Waters and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. Big deal. No one is losing any sleep over those guys at The Castle.
But the Ravens counter with Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Marshal Yanda and Ed Reed. They're tough dudes, and experienced as well.
Everyone is aware that Kansas City has the NFL's top rushing attack, and they have great runners who can score from anywhere on the field in Thomas Jones and Charles
I'm also aware that the Ravens have struggled at times against the run, and certainly aren't what they used to be in shutting down the opposition.
But veterans like Ngata, Gregg and Lewis have another gear. They'll turn it up a notch in the postseason. They'll maintain gap control and stymie the Chiefs' running game, and once that happens, the Ravens will smother Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel.
Chambers and Bowe are big receivers who can give the Ravens trouble, but you can't complete passes from the seat of your pants. Cassel found that out last Sunday when the Raiders sacked him seven times.
Chiefs WRs Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers vs. Ravens CBs Josh Wilson and Chris Carr: The Chiefs are a running team, but they have two big, physical receivers in Bowe and Chambers. Wilson and Carr don't have great size, but have outstanding speed, which will be tested by Chambers and Bowe. If given time to throw, Chambers and Bowe could have big games against the Ravens. Edge: Chiefs.
Chiefs Gs Ryan Lilja and Brian Waters vs. Ravens DTs Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata: Kansas City likes to run the ball and Lilja and Waters are keys. They are good at the point of attack, but also versatile and fast enough to get outside on traps and tosses. Gregg or Ngata will be double-teammed almost every play, but the other has to hold ground and make the play in the middle. Lilja and Waters don't have the muscle to move Ngata and Gregg consistently. Edge: Ravens.
Chiefs RBs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones vs. Ravens LBs Jameel McClain and Ray Lewis: Kansas City has the No. 1 running game in the league, and both Charles and Jones have speed and quick change of direction. The Ravens have to be careful not to overpursue and maintain lane integrity. Lewis and McClain are two of the major keys. Both players are quick, and Lewis played well last week plugging holes. McClain is like a jack rabbit, but sometimes becomes undisciplined. This is a game where McClain has to stay under control at all times and square up when tackling. Edge: Even.
One of the Ravens’ defensive priorities in Sunday’s AFC wild-card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs is limiting wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
But defensive coordinator Greg Mattison pointed out that some of Bowe’s success this season – an NFL-best 15 touchdown catches and 1,162 yards – is a result of a running game that is tops in the league.
“A lot of it is the running game,” Mattison said Thursday. “The teams, when you’re playing them, you know how good they are on the run, and so you find ways to kind of load up – whether it’s loading up with zone or loading up with man. In a lot of those situations, he gets single-covered. They’ve got a very good scheme. They have the ability to attack both the open side with their toss and be able to run to the close side – the tight end’s side – and throw it over there. So a lot of his success has come because they run the ball so well.”
Several opponents have succeeded at containing Bowe, who has collected less than 70 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in four of his last five contests. Jamming the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Bowe is one option, but Mattison said that strategy comes with a risk.
“The hardest thing about that is, if you aren’t a real big corner [and you’re] trying to do that, you can sometimes get thrown out of the way, and now, it’s a little bit negative for you,” Mattison said. “But yeah, you definitely want to mix jamming him and getting up in his face and then sometimes playing off.”
Ravens fans have grown accustomed to making the playoffs under coach John Harbaugh — three times in three years — but they've also gotten used to January disappointment, leaving many apprehensive.
As the Ravens prepared this week for their first-round matchup against the Kansas City, fans were especially concerned about some of the team's troubles in closing out games, even in eventual victories.
"They might win the first week, but beyond that they got nothing," said Darell Strawther, 33, a fan who was sipping a beer and picking steamed shrimp at Federal Hill's Cross Street Market Wednesday night. "New England is going to hand it to us."
Martin 53, who sat at the bar inside Ryleigh's Oyster in Federal Hill Wednesday said, "I think to be in the playoffs is a huge accomplishment. The question is going to be, will the offense be able to achieve its potential? Will the offense be able to do the job when necessary?"
But, he said, "playoffs are a whole new season … It's all about the next game. I think they can do it." However, as for the following playoff weeks, he said, "Pittsburgh and New England will be tough. We'll see."
At a rather quiet Mother's Bar and Grille, which was adorned with purple Christmas wreaths, Matt Buschman, 24, confidently said "Everybody is excited. We are going to see more purple jerseys out. It's a huge goal to make the playoffs. Anytime we make the playoffs, we have a chance to win the Super bowl," adding, "We beat the Patriots last year."
At Towson's Bill Bateman's Bistro Wednesday, Brittiney Little, 23, showed similar confidence, saying "none of the games we've been blown out. We should've beaten New England," this year, she said. "We should've beaten Atlanta and I had to go to work on the morning. I stayed up for that," she said.
Her friend Tonian Howell, 23, agreed that this past season has brought some disappointments that is still fresh for fans.
"For me, it's always going to be 'they always get so damn close.' Every fourth quarter they give you a heart attack," Howell said.
Redskins fan Russell Howard, 28, of Towson, said he's was still hoping for a better season for his team, adding that Ravens fans should count their blessings.
"Ravens fans want to complain all the time. Flacco this and Flacco that," he said. "They are at 12 and 4," season."I'd be happy to get 8 and 8." He added that the relatively younger team and its fans "are getting to go to the playoffs every year." he said.
While he admitted "they could be better," he said, "Every team could be better." He did agree with some of the most loyal fans skepticism. "I can't see them beating Pittsburgh and New England. They've just got to play a lot better," Howard said.
Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said the team still has a great shot at achieving their championship goals even as a No. 5 seed in the AFC.
"I feel like we have the most talented team in the NFL," Carr said. "If you look at our roster from top to bottom, I think it’s fair to say. I’ve talked to people who have played on other teams, who are on other teams, and I talked to Prince Miller – who was in New England for a week and came back here – and saying the talent level that we had compared to them... So, when you have the most talent, it should be a disappointment if you don’t win the Super Bowl."
Missing in action much of the season, the Ravens' pass rush will stir once again on Sunday in Kansas City and give chase to Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.
Catching him, of course, will be the problem.
Even with linebacker Terrell Suggs playing his best, the Ravens posted a franchise-low 27 sacks in the regular season. Filtered another way, the Ravens ranked last in the league in sacks-per-play. Their previous low ranking in sacks per play was 26th in their maiden season of 1996.
In Ryan's four seasons directing the defense, the Ravens averaged 41.7 sacks per year. In Mattison's two seasons, they've averaged 29.5.
But the biggest difference in that distinction is that Ryan had players in their prime, and he used them well in his helter-skelter style of blitzes. Mattison has a defense that has gotten old and a secondary that has been vulnerable, although opportunistic.
Sunday's matchup should be revealing to both teams. While the Ravens struggled to reach the quarterback in December, the Chiefs likewise had difficulty protecting their passer. After allowing just 15 sacks in their first 11 games, the Chiefs have allowed 15 in the past four.
Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert of Glen Burnie has given up 17 sacks over his past 29 games. That's who will be on Suggs in Arrowhead Stadium.
Would like to see the Chiefs step up but you consider the fact that the Ravens were only a close loss to the Steelers short of having the second best record in the league, and they are only the fifth seed because of tie breakers. The seeding and who has home field just doesn't tell the story for the opening round (same goes with the NFC).
Hopefully at the very least they put up a good fight and hit the Ravens with some of their own medicine. Would be funny if Thuggs aggravated his knee chasing after somebody taunting him about Brady.
I think whacky seeding more or less dictates that the Pats will have to go through the #2A and #2B teams of the conference to get to Dallas (assign the letters as you see fit, it is a close call).
There is of course the slight chance that the Jets aren't complete and total frauds, but I'm not exactly sold on that notion either.
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You probably know that Charles finished second in the NFL with 1,467 rushing yards in 230 carries. But did you know that rushing king Arian Foster had just 1,162 yards on his 230th carry this season?
We can go back and forth on this issue, of course, the Chiefs’ version of chicken-and-egg. Charles admitted to feeling beat up at the end of last season, when he carried 74 times over the final three games, so it’s easy to make the case that he’s been so productive over the 2010 season because he’s split carries with Thomas Jones.
Then again, the NFL has quite literally never seen something like Jamaal Charles before. No back in the Super Bowl era has averaged 6.0 yards per attempt over their first three seasons, at least not with anything close to regular duty — Chris Johnson was at 5.0 and Barry Sanders 4.9, for instance. Even Jim Brown averaged 5.1.
None of this means Charles is or will be better than those guys, just that even after a near-historic season and Pro Bowl selection, Charles is still better than a lot of people realize.
One thing that’s always worked for the Baltimore Ravens, and what Ray Lewis has always stood for, and what comes through his background with the Miami Hurricanes, they have the ability to play at a speed and level and talk you out of your game.
I don’t think that’s changed, and I think the Chiefs will go in there and do their business and play smash mouth football and take every hit back to the ravens in the same way it will come. If they match that, grit for grit, put every lineman agains the next lineman, and Jamaal Charles runs through and attacks and is patient and does the things he knows will make him successful, they’ll have a lot of success. If you allow the Ravens defense to intimidate you, they’ll keep the game close to allow the defense to play positional ball, and they’ll use their fourth downs to be able to pin you in your territory, have the defense hold you, and then they have a shorter field for their offense.
It will be an upset in the minds of a lot of the analysts that count the Chiefs off, but I believe this is an opportunity for the Chiefs they’re not going to allow to pass.
Quarterback Joe Montana peered into the Chiefs’ huddle, and a sly smile surfaced between those dimpled cheeks.
The clock showed just 1 minute, 48 seconds to play. The Chiefs trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers by seven points. And it was fourth and goal from the Steelers 7.
“I’ll never forget how relaxed he was,” wide receiver J.J. Birden recalled. “We were all kind of nervous, and he came in and kind of smiled, and said, ‘Hey, listen up guys, this is no big deal, let’s go finish this.’ ”
With that, Montana drilled a pass in the back of the end zone to wide receiver Tim Barnett for the tying touchdown.
Then, he marched the offense downfield in overtime, and Nick Lowery kicked a 32-yard field goal for a 27-24 victory — the last time the Chiefs won a playoff game at home.
That was exactly 17 years ago today. Or 6,209 days ago.