Alright so I took a little break...ok a long break, from writing, I apologize inadvance but with the whole holiday season and starting a new job I haven’t hadmuch time or energy to blog. But I had to come back this week for one specificreason, Patriots vs. Ravens in the AFC Championship game. Sunday’sgame will take place in Foxboro, which seemed to be a long shot several weeksago when the Patriots lost to the 49ers and fell into 3rd place inthe AFC. But with the Texans late season collapse, they were able to secure the2nd seed in the AFC behind the Denver Broncos. And, thanks to yetanother postseason collapse by Peyton Manning, the Patriots now have the homefield advantage for their most important game yet. A small part of me actuallywishes that the Broncos had beaten the Ravens last Saturday for the fact thatanother Brady vs. Manning AFC Championship game would have been legendary. Butthis Sunday’s game will still be quite epic.
This game, to put it simply, is amatchup of the greatest offensive team of the past decade vs. the greatestdefensive team of the past decade. This game features Tom Brady looking for his4th Super Bowl vs. Ray Lewis who hopes to capture another Super Bowlbefore he ends his Hall of Fame career after this season. To add even more fuelto the fire, this is also a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game wherethe Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20 thanks to an unbelievably easy drop inthe end zone by Lee Evans followed by a missed 32 yard FG by Billy Cundiff thatmiraculously sail to the left of the upright. Actually, scratch that, the mostmiraculous thing that happened that Sunday was the fact that Cundiff was notmurdered by Ray Lewis, who by the way already has 2 priorkills on his resume. I would have bet the house on Cundiff not making it backto Baltimore. But I digress…after losing last year’s game, you bet your ass theRavens will be bringing their A+ game to Gillette this Sunday. And they betterbecause if not Brady and Co. will make them look like the old, washed up teamthey appear to be on paper.
The critics will say “well Baltimore already beatNew England this year so you Patriots fans shouldn’t be so optimistic aboutthis game”, but I have several reasons why I think this game will have a fardifferent outcome than the game in week 3 did when the Patriots lost 31-30.
First off, that week 3 “loss” was actually a Patriots winthat they were screwed out of by the horrific replacement officials. As theysay, the proof is in the pudding:
Clearly right of the goal post. No good. Patriots win 30-28.
My second main reason: The Patriots defense in week 3 compared to what it is rightnow is like comparing Khloe Kardashian and Megan Fox.
Week: 3 Currentlyvs.
Ok, ok maybe the Patriots defense of today isn’t as sexy asMegan Fox but you get the comparison. Back in week 3 the defense didn’t knowtheir ass from their elbow. They were giving up 300-400 passing yards a game, and making QB like Mark Sanchez look like Pro Bowlers weekly. The secondary wasespecially bad. Guys like Devin McCourty, Alfonso Dennard and Kyle Arringtonwere committing, what seemed like, pass interference penalties on 50% of theopposing teams passes and the other 50% of the time they were watching theopposing teams wideouts accelerate away from them as they waltzed into the end zone.It was pathetic and embarrassing and if that trend continued, there is no doubtthe Patriots would be in Florida somewhere on the 19th green thisSunday. But instead they go their act together and instead of watching the gameon TV, they’ll be playing for a chance to go to their 2nd Super Bowlin as many years. The addition of Aqib Talib was reason number 1 for why thisturnaround occurred. Now I don’t know if Talib has been holding some sort of weekly "Secondary for Dummies" type classes since his arrival to Foxboro but something hasdefinitely clicked. McCourty was moved back to safety when Talib was acquiredand in the process went from looking like an “I’m about to get cut, never getpicked up, and start working at McDonalds very, very soon” type cornerback to an above averageto possibly in the future All Pro caliber safety. He belongs at safety and the Talib acquisition hasbeen a blessing for his career. Along with McCourty, guys like Alfonzo Dennard, TavonWilson, Steve Gregory, Patrick Chung, and even Kyle Arrington have all playedmuch, much better. Before they got Talibthe team was giving up an average of 21 points a game and the team had a 6-3record. Since then the team has gone 7-1 and they have given up 19 points a game, not a huge improvement from before but it was against a considerablymore difficult schedule than they had before the trade.
But, no matter how bad the defense looked early on, theystill forced their opponents to turn the ball over when they most needed it andthat trend has continued into the present. The Patriots had an NFL best +25takeaway to turnover ratio. The next closest team was the Chicago Bears whocame in at +21. In comparison, this Sunday’s opponent the Ravens came in with a+9, good enough for 3rd in the AFC. That’s how good this Patriots teamhas been this year, they beat the Ravens but a margin of 12 and the Ravensstill finished in 3rd. Unbelievably, that terrible secondary thatfinally found it’s bearings halfway through the season, led the AFC ininterceptions with 20. The defensive turnaround has been unreal, but it will beall for nothing if they can’t stop Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin.
NowI’m not too concerned with Ray Rice because the Patriots run defense is one ofthe best in the NFL. I’m also not worried about Anquan Boldin because I figureTalib will be covering him/shutting him down. I am however worried about JoeFlacco. Now I’ve been the biggest Flacco hater for years now. I think he’scocky and arrogant, i.e.: his I am an elite NFL QB quote he made earlier thisyear, but I also don’t think he’s very good. But so far this post-season,Flacco is playing out of his mind. Like Brady-esque performances through thefirst 2 games. Against the Colts he went 12-23 for 283 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int. Hethen followed that up with another great game last week against a tough BroncosD when he went 18-34 for 331 yards, 3 TD, 0 Int, including a 70 yard bomb toJacoby Jones to tie the score at 35-35 with 31 seconds left. Now don’t get me started on how Denver couldallow such a thing to happen in a playoff game but it’s still an amazingaccomplishment for Flacco. Now he comes to Foxboro with a ton of confidence andit’s up to the Pats D to bring him back down to Earth and back to his averageNFL QB status he most definitely deserves. (I’m sure by now you can tell Ireally, really don’t like this guy; plus he went to Delaware so he’s bound tobe a loser/dickhead.)
On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots look aspotent and lethal as ever. Wes Welker just completed his 5th 100 catch season; the most in NFL history. Thinkabout that for a second, not even Hall of Fame greats like Jerry Rice, MichaelIrvin, and current greats like Randy Moss or Marvin Harrison have managed to beas consistent as the little 5’9” white guy from Texas Tech. It’s reallyunbelievable and a testament to how great Welker, Brady, and the Patriotsoffense has been for the past decade. And last Sunday Brady and Welkercontinued their dominance. Brady finished with a line of 25-40 for 344 yardsand 3 TD and 0 Int. Welker made 8 catches for 131 yards in the Pats 41-28victory over the Texans.
A side note on last Sunday’s game, at 4:37 PM, roughly5 minutes before kickoff, I Tweeted my prediction for the game and as you cansee below, I absolutely nailed it. (I also need to learn how to spell prediction.)
As the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut everyonce in a while.
But anyways, back to the game. A player who actually surprised us all and had himself abreakout game last Sunday was Shane Vereen. Vereen, unbelievably, scored 3 TDagainst the Texans, rushed for 41 yards on only 7 carries and had 5 receptionsfor 83 yards. He was arguably the Patriots best offensive player which isshocking based on the players who line up beside him on the field. If Vereencan continue this production, he will help this team become even more dangerous…ifthat’s even humanly possible, and will help soften the blow of losing Gronk forthe reminder of the playoffs. Vereen’s speed is his greatest asset and to mixthat with Ridley’s power would give the Patriots one of the best 1-2 RB tandemsin the NFL.
The loss of Gronk will definitely hurt this team, but ifthere’s a positive to take out of this, at least the team has proven they canwin and score at will without him. Aaron Hernandez continues to impress withhis speed, agility and touchdown celebrations and as long as he continues thatthey will be fine.
It was nice to see a Brandon Lloyd appearance last Sunday.It’s almost as rare nowadays as the great white buffalo sightings or seeing ahockey game that actually means anything. (Yes, I am aware the lockout is overand the season will begin Saturday. No, I will not be writing about it.) Lloydmade 5 grabs for only 32 yards but also scored a TD on Sunday. I swear if theman actually stayed on his feet, he would be an all pro. But instead, as soonas the ball reaches him he’s either already on the ground or is on his way sohe can avoid contact. He is without a doubt the biggest pussy in the NFL. Justwatch him this Sunday and you will see what I’m talking about. That is ridingon the assumption however, that Brady actually throws the ball his way againstthe Ravens. I think Brady also thinks Lloyd is a pussy because as the seasonhas progressed Brady has gone from forcing throws his way early on, toforgetting about him and throwing to the likes of Michael Hoomanawanui onoccasion. Lloyd no doubt has the talent to succeed in this league, now he justneeds to grow some balls and prove he deserves to be on the field with thelikes of Brady and Welker who put it on the line, every snap, every week.
I can see this game going one of two ways this Sunday. A cansee a decisive Patriots victory/blowout based on these facts: Flacco needs tocome back to planet Earth sometime soon; the great Patriots run defense willhold Ray Rice at bay and put all the pressure on Flacco who then in turn will failmiserably; the Ravens defense, although once great and very experienced, isold, slowing, and injured and will find it hard to compete with the Patriotsoffense. If even one of these things occurs, the Patriots can book their flightto the Big Easy and start game planning on how to stop Colin Kaepernick and the49ers. My other thought is that we will see a very close back and forth, hardfought game, by both sides and the Patriots win by 3 points or less. This isobviously the more likely scenario being that in the last 6 seasons, thePatriots have faced the Ravens 6 times. In those games, all but 1 was decidedby 6 points or less, and an astounding 4 games were decided in the finalseconds.
I really don’t see the Ravens winning this game. ThePatriots have been on a mission to win ring #4 all season and luckily theGiants failed to make this year’s playoffs so our chances of winning it all arepretty much 100% if we make it to New Orleans. But besides that point, it hasbeen talked about that Brady seeks his 4th ring desperately to puthim on the same level as his childhood idol, Joe Montana and Steelers greatTerry Bradshaw. Besides Brady, the defense has looked too good and the offensehas been superb up to this point, even against great defenses like the 49ersand the Texans (twice) and I just don’t see the Ravens holding them down longenough to squeak out a victory at Gillette. I’m going with scenario 1 and thePatriots win big.
Patriots 38 – Ravens 20
Hopefully, for my own well-being, the next time you folkshere from me, we will be looking our 4th Vince Lombardi Trophysquare in the eye with only the 49ers in our way. Hey, at least it’s not theGiants or we’d definitely be screwed. Bring on the Big Easy!!