Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks, Feb. 2, 2014

Flacco vs. Brady Is Key to Patriots-Ravens AFC Title Game

Patriots QB Tom Brady has struggled against top defenses this season.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Tom Brady drives against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium Saturday.

    This week, we're going to do in-depth scouting reports on the two conference title games. First up: Pats/Ravens.

    The Teams: The Baltimore Ravens vs. the New England Patriots

    Records: 13-4 (Ravens), 14-3 (Pats)

    The Line: Patriots by 7.5. The Ravens were favored by the exact same line last week. Peter King finds this WEIRD and INTERESTING.

    The Coaches: Bill Belichick vs. John Harbaugh. That looked like a lovely lasagna dinner you had at home with your family last night, Coach Harbaugh. What's that? How do I know what you were eating at home last night? Via Coach Belichick's camera feed, of course! You left a dirty pot in the sink, by the way.

    The Offenses: Look at Bill Belichick showing off by putting TE Aaron Hernandez at running back against the Broncos last week. That was the football coach equivalent of popping a wheelie. Who knows what else the King of the Hobos has in store for this game. Wes Welker at guard? Tom Brady at linebacker? Patrick Chung taking a direct snap on a fake punt? Oh wait, that one didn't go over so well last time.

    Anyway, Tom Brady did a number on the Broncos last week, but the Pats haven't beaten a defense like the Ravens (No. 3 overall) this season. The only time they went up against a comparable defense (PIT), they got crushed. Food for thought.

    As for the Ravens, they're gonna need to play a whole lot better on offense if they expect to win this game. Ed Dickson dropped virtually every pass thrown his way last week, which is standard operating procedure for Ed Dickson. Torrey Smith wasn't involved at all. And the Ravens couldn't even convert a fourth-and-inches down at the goal line. They'll need a great game from Ray Rice, and Joe Flacco will have to register a pulse. Given this team's road record (4-4), it's a dicey proposition.

    The Defenses: Even though the Pats gave up a robust 411 yards per game this season (only the Packers were worse), they were 15th in overall scoring defense, which is pretty impressive given Belichick's constant lineup shuffling. The Patriots will again rely on DE Mark Anderson to get pressure on the QB, now that Andre Carter is done for the season. The Patriots have the kind of defense that relies on opposing offenses to make mistakes, and Lord knows the Ravens can oblige in that department.

    As for the Ravens, Ray Lewis certainly looked like Ray Lewis again last week. Dan Dierdorf nearly ate his own mustache, he was so excited. Expect Lewis and the rest of the Ravens LBs to jam tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the line of scrimmage. And by "jam," I mean "beat them to a bloody pulp".

    Key Matchup: Flacco vs. Brady. I suspect that Joe Flacco, as presently constituted, is as good as he'll ever be. But perhaps he'll prove me wrong on Sunday. Lord knows he'll need a good game to outduel the top dog.