Was last week an indication that the defense is ready to step up in the playoffs?
I believe the defense has something to prove The one thing you constantly hear about the defense is how it was ranked 31st overall during the regular season. I think the defense is feeding off the energy and production of the highly-efficient offense, and you saw that against the Broncos. This defense won’t be mistaken for the Ravens, but if anything, last weekend indicated the Patriots’ stop unit is capable of giving Flacco and friends fits because of its athletic pieces.
How do the tight ends find room against a Ravens defense that has been especially stingy versus TEs?
Room will not be hard to come by. Big plays – that could be a different story. I know Gronk and Hernandez will combine for 15 or more catches because they’re just too good. You won’t find a linebacker with enough speed to keep up with Gronkowski or a safety with the size to contain him in the open field. The only way to nullify the tight ends is to get to Brady and force them to stay inside to block. In the end, it will be a matter of how bad the dynamic duo burns Baltimore – not if they can find separation from the Ravens’ linebackers and safeties.
Can the Pats offensive line hold up against the Ravens’ dominant front line?
Yes and yes. A double-team is a must for Haloti Ngata and an extra back to hold up Terrell Suggs will be necessary. At times, you will see the Pats offensive line overmatched. But, as a group, they will work together to make sure Brady stays upright. I think the key will be the first drive. If the Patriots snatch the lead early they can use the running game as an option and that will keep the Ravens defense honest. Play-action, quick strikes on underneath/crossing routes will also help silence the Birds’ ferocious front line.
Prediction: New England 26, Baltimore 19
I think the Patriots will create an early lead and ride the accurate arm of Brady to Indianapolis. I don’t have any faith whatsoever in Baltimore’s playmakers, outside of Ray Rice, to make enough plays to catch up to the Patriots when they get behind. In all reality, the Pats have the home crowd and the best quarterback in the world on their side to take on a defense that is very good, but not great.