Everyone who follows the NFL is keenly aware that the league is definitely not rooting for the Baltimore Ravens to beat the New England Patriots in today's AFC Championship Game. The league would greatly prefer to see the Patriots end up facing the New York Giants, combining the prospect of the biggest TV market with what should inevitably be an offensive shootout that most casual Super Bowl fans would prefer.
The Super Bowl is the league's biggest moneymaker and make no bones about it, the Patriots will be a bigger draw than the Ravens would be. Combined with the Giants rather than the San Francisco 49ers, this Super Bowl match-up would make the NFL the happiest. A Ravens-49ers Super Bowl might satisfy the pure, old-school football fans but a 17-13 possibility would pale in comparison to a 44-34 Pats-Giants game.
Unfortunately, the Ravens will be disappointing pretty much all interested parties other than their own fans. The Patriots will be facing a Ravens team that did not lose to a single tema with a winning record in the regular season while the Pats did not beat a single team that finished the regular season with a winning record. The Patriots played a very similar team in the Pittsburgh Steelers and could not figure out their confusing defensive schemes that they threw at Tom Brady all day.
Don't be surprised if the Ravens use that game as a blueprint for success against New England. While Baltimore has not played such a prolific offense like the Patriots, they have the hope that they can slow down, yet not stop Brady and his offense The biggest fear is not so much preventing the Pats tight ends from catching the ball, it's limiting their yards after the catch that should concern them.
On the Ravens offensive side, if New England tries to focus on stopping Ray Rice and stacks the box with 8-9 defenders, QB Joe Flacco will gladly take that dare and throw deep against a very vulnerable secondary. With the sure-handed Anquan Boldin and the speedy rookie Torrey Smith, theRavens can throw short and deep and would be thrilled if they could "introduce" their two solid tight ends to the viewing audience.
Despite being more than a TD underdog on the road, the Ravens are road-tested and battle ready and have proved over the past three years that they can go on the road and win against a top seeded playoff team. Baltimore's offense may have faltered against a top ranked Houston Texans defense, but this is not nearly a similar defense they are facing to day and should be able to move the ball and put points on the board.
Keeping Joe Flacco and Ray Rice on the field means that Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski stay off of it and the more time and points the Ravens offense can put on the field and scoreboard, the less time the Pats offense can do the same. Expect Flacco to quiet and possible shut up a lot of his critics and whether or not he has a great game truly doesn't matter to him as long as his team wins. Which they will.
(See my prediction on SB Nation's NFL page here)