This will be the third time 12 months that the two will face off. Brady won the first match to bring his team to the Super Bowl. That game has been replayed hundreds of times in my head along with other Ravens fans. It was a devastating loss for sure, but one that Joe Flacco outplayed the future hall of famer. I won’t dwell on that game because it has been really drilled to the ground. The second matchup was in Baltimore and saw Flacco actually come out on top. Both quarterbacks played extremely well, but Flacco combined with Torrey Smith for two scores and ultimately won the game. There has been some fairly significant changes for both teams since that game.
I’ll start with Patriots. On offense, Brady lost one of his most crucial pieces. Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm in the middle of the season, and then rebroke the same arm last week against the Texans. Gronkowski is arguably the best tight end in football, and it isn’t really a fair argument. He adds a whole new dimension to the passing game with his combination of speed and strength. His loss is hard, but Brady has plenty of other options to pass to. Wes Welker is playing his best football now than he has all year. Aaron Hernandez is still a great tight end and Brandon Lloyd is a good receiver who could play better in a bigger role with Gronk out. It is a major blow, but New England’s offense still has plenty of fire power.
As for the defense, New England got a huge reinforcement. Right before the trade deadline, the Patriot’s made the biggest splash by acquiring talented corner back Aqib Talib. Talib of course had a troubled past which made him available for trade. He has done a great job slotting in as the Pat’s tob cornerback and is likely to shadow Torrey Smith in this matchup. Smith torched the New England secondary routinely in the first game, playing with a lot of emotion after just losing his younger brother. However, he has struggled against top corners. That was until last week when he scored twice against one of the best in Champ Bailey. This will a great matchup to keep an eye on.
As for the Ravens, the offense is much the same except for one change. Bryant McKinnie got his starting job back on the blind side in the first playoff game against the Colts. Michael Oher was pushed to the right side and Osemele was pushed inside. This line has shown to be the best combination that the Ravens have used all season. Giving Joe Flacco as much time as possible has been crucial in his success all along. That is a big reason that he has been playing so well in the playoffs.
As for the defense, they have been altered so much since the Patriots game. The biggest loss for Baltimore has been CB Lardarius Webb. Webb is easily Baltimore’s best corner, and one of the best players on Baltimore’s entire defense. He was crucial in the win earlier this season and his loss has led to teams exploiting a weak spot in Baltimore’s defense. In fact, this has been a huge weak point in the defense until Corey Graham took over in the starting lineup. Graham has his flaws, but his knack for the big play has been big. He had two picks against Peyton Manning last week, including the one that set up the game winning field goal. Terrell Suggs has returned from his Achilles injury, tore his biceps, but then returned from that as well. He has been hampered from the injury, but played extremely strong last week. His presence has also done a lot in Paul Kruger’s game. Kruger is a much better player with Suggs freeing up some blocking on the other side. Overall, Baltimore’s defense probably isn’t as strong as they were in week 4, but are improving with every game.
This rematch should not disappoint. The Patriots are favored by a wide margin, but Baltimore has been playing lights out. I think as long as the Ravens do not play down emotionally after two emotionally draining games. Luckily for Baltimore, they have come through each game relatively unscathed. Bernard Pierce is the lone player that is a serious threat to miss this Sunday’s game. Pierce missed Thursday’s practice, but he claims he will be good to go Sunday. Either way, Baltimore is healthier than they have been in a long time and should have a great chance to reach the Super Bowl.