Injury and participation reports are out, the time and date are set, and our teams are about to collide to determine the representative of the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Did you know that the New England Patriots cheerleading squad was selected by some sports-writer-guy as the best in the league? Do you object to that statement? Feel free to offer photographic evidence to suggest that the Baltimore Ravens have a better cheerleading squad. And I guess you can ask any questions you have about Sunday's dead-or-alive contest.
The Keys for the Ravens vs. the Pats:
Run the ball. Don't be fooled by the "2nd worst in the league" passing-defense. The time of possession is also very important. If you let Brady have time for 10 possessions, he'll get his TDs. Win the TOP, keep the Pats D honest, and make use of your best weapon. Flacco will need a decent passing day if he's going to lead his team to a win in New England, but the Ravens absolutely need Ray Rice to have a good game.
Do not make mistakes, create turnovers. The odds have the Pats being more likely to win the turnover battle in this game. When they win the turnover batlte, they win approximately 95% of the time. In fact they often struggle when they lose that turnover battle. The Ravens are a veteran team so we'll see. One interesting nugget is the Ravens committed 0 penalties vs. the Texans while the Pats committed just 2 vs. the Broncos. That's a testament to the coaches of both teams.
They may be called the Brady Bunch, but respect them for the weapons they are. Put a LB on Welker, Gronk, or Hernandez if you'd like. Hell, run zone and hope they don't find weak spots in the Pass-D. Even if it's Ray Lewis, the Pats will take advantage. The Steelers and Giants had success with man-coverage out of a nickel or dime package, as did the Jets in the 2010 playoff game at New England. The Pats have developed more of a running-game since then for when they find themselves facing half-a-dozen DBs, but remember that Brady is at his finest when he's the one dictating. His QBR is higher against a blitz than against a more-traditional 3 or 4 man rush.
Slowing down the Boston TE Party is more important than blitzing Brady. As I mentioned above, Brady is stellar at tearing up a blitz. Everyone wants to hit him and indeed he can't be allowed to stand back there behind his stellar O-Line, but do not ever leave open field for Gronk and Hernandez and Welker to get their free release. Let them run their routes and they'll do just that, beating whatever mismatch they can find. Don't count on them dropping the ball much if at all. They need to be chipped at the line of scrimmage, especially those TEs who absolutely love eluding LBs and bullying DBs. Besides, those TEs might be looking to chip Suggs anyways to throw off his pass-rush. On the flip-side, I won't be surprised if the Pats LBs try to slow down the Ravens TEs.
Don't be predictable. I know the first key was to run the ball, but don't make it easy for Belichick to game-plan. He always makes adjustments. Greg Cossell noted how old-school the Ravens O appears to be, in the sense that it only appears sophisticated when compared to the option from Tim Tebow. Well, you all know what the Pats D managed to do to that predictable offense from Denver. Big Ben shocked the Pats D by dinking and dunking it for one first down after another. The Giants introduced Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard as key components of their pass-D. Flacco, Cam, Harbaugh, Rice, whoever it is, someone needs to shock the Pats D with something unexpected. Belichick will gameplan against Ray Rice and the deep ball.
You can count on the Pats throwing at least one or two curve-balls...