Continuing our previews of the Divisional playoff games it is time to move onto the AFC Divisional showdown between number one seed the New England Patriots and number six seeds the Baltimore Ravens.
How the Ravens can win
Defense wins Championships and if the Ravens are going to make it into the AFC Championship game defense is going to lead the way.
Like most quarterbacks Tom Brady struggles when he is exposed to pressure from the rush and the Ravens front seven is perfectly suited to fight their way through the pocket and introduce themselves violently to the future Hall of Famer.
The Ravens front seven does need to put Brady under pressure in order to protect its makeshift secondary. Given the likely weather conditions though it is perhaps more important that the Ravens do what they have been doing all year and shut the run down.
If the Ravens front seven does manage to keep things tight then the well balanced offense will at least give Baltimore a shot at victory.
How the Patriots can win
The Patriots can win here by establishing the run. The Baltimore Ravens run defense is the fourth best in the league averaging just 88.2 rushing yards per game.
By contrast the Patriots run offense ranks 17th over the entire season but that doesn't quite tell the whole story. For the most part this season New England have kept their powder dry in the running game. Adopting the most run by committee approach in the NFL the Patriots have four players with over 60 carries, Vereen (96), Ridley (94), Gray (89), and Blount (60).
However, when Belicheck has seen the need to lean on the run game the Patriots have had success. Against the Colts they released rookie Jonas Grey to stomp all over a sub-par run defense as the rookie rushed for over 200 yards.
The Patriots have had success with the run at times this season whether they can replicate that success against the likes of Ngata and Suggs is debatable.
Verdict : Ravens Win
The big spoiler here is the weather. It is going to be windy and cold in Foxboro on Saturday. Typically, the home team, the Patriots, would adapt better to these conditions as they are more used to them and, as Brady has pointed out, he's a "machine" in the cold weather.
The difference here though is these conditions play into the the biggest strength the Ravens have; the run. In the wind and cold, passing becomes more difficult. As such the Patriots run game is crucial if New England are to be successful and win but it is hard to see New England running on this Baltimore defense.