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Playoffs Preview- AFC Championship Game

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Bill Belichick

After one of the most exciting divisional round weekends in NFL history, the Playoffs continue this week with the conference Championship games.

The AFC Championship Game is a repeat of last year’s matchup as Ray Lewis the Baltimore Ravens travel to New England to tackle Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Now without further ado, here is my breakdown of the game with profiles of the key players for both teams.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Key Players

Ravens

Joe Flacco

  • As the old cliché goes, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and quarterback Joe Flacco is the first key player to watch for the Ravens. After claiming to be an ‘Elite quarterback’ for many seasons now, he is finally turning his off-field confidence into success on the field.
  • With five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the Ravens last two games, Flacco is playing arguably the best football of his career as he goes in search of his first AFC Championship victory at the third attempt.
  • Key Question: Can Flacco take advantage of the weapons at his disposal and continue his impressive play against a less than perfect Patriots secondary?

Ray Rice

  • When the Ravens beat the Patriots back in the Divisional Round of the 2010 Playoffs, running back Ray Rice had over 150 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. In fact, he has rushed for 292 yards in three meetings against the Patriots and has been a constant threat to Bill Belichick and the Pats defense.
  • Despite a down year statistically compared to his 2011 campaign, Rice has seen his production increase in the Playoffs and is coming off an impressive performance in the Ravens win vs the the Denver Broncos last week. He ran the ball 30 times in that game and will likely see another large number of carries again this week.
  • Key Question: Can the Ravens running back carry the load again and have success vs a Patriots run defense that ranked ninth in the NFL in the regular season?

Ray Lewis

  • On NFL Total Access after the Ravens wildcard win over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, former General Manager and NFL Network anaylst Charlie Casserley claimed Ray Lewis was too old and looked too slow on the field. There’s no denying his age, but his performance on the field has been spectacular for the Ravens defense if you ask me.
  • Leading your team in tackles two weeks in a row and providing the type of leadership that only he can bring is exactly why sugar Ray will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer after he retires this season. After defeating a legendary qiuarterback last week, Lewis goes up against another one of the game’s best this week vs Tom Brady.
  • Key Question: Will the greatest middle linebacker of all-time add to his legacy by reaching another Super Bowl or is this the last stand for #52?

Patriots

Tom Brady

  • As long as Tom Brady is in New England, he will always be the first key player to bring up for the Patriots. The three-time Super Bowl champion is looking to bounce back from last year’s defeat at the hands of the New York Giants and return to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive season.
  • Last week’s victory vs the Houston Texans now means that Brady has the most Playoff wins for a quarterback in NFL history with 17. He will be out to prove that he is still the best quarterback in the business despite missing one of his favorite targets in tight end Rob Gronkowksi.
  • Key Question: Can Brady turn around his recent struggles vs the Ravens defense and lead his team to yet another Super Bowl?

Wes Welker

  • Wes Welker is perhaps the most underrated player in the NFL and he has been for quite some time. Standing  just 5 foot 9 inches and weighing in at just over 185 pounds, the 31-year-old veteran is after completing yet another season of over 1,000 yards and 100 catches.
  • He now holds the Patriots franchise record for receptions and also holds the NFL record for most seasons with over 100 catches after a 118 catch performance this campaign. With tighe end Rob Gronkowski now out indefinitely with a broken forearm, Welker will continue to be Tom Brady’s go to target in this game.
  • Key Question: How much of an impact will Welker have in the Patriots passing game with the Ravens pass defense fixed on stopping him?

Vince Wilfork

  • The veteran leader of the defense, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been spectacular for the Patriots again this season and was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Wilfork is a standout star on the Pats defensive line with his 325 pound frame providing for a consistent road block for opposing running backs.
  • He will provide a big test for the Ravens offensive line protecting quarterback Joe Flacco from pressure in the pocket. Luckily for the Ravens, Wilfork will face much of the game going up against two of the very best interior linemen in the league in Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda.
  • Key Question: Will Wilfork be a disruptive pass rushing force for the Pats defense and also stop Ray Rice in the run game?

Prediction

John Harbaugh

So just as I had predicted before the season started back in August, it’s the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots who meet in the AFC Championship Game.

This is a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game which finished with a Patriots 23-20 victory after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a crucial field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
With rookie Justin Tucker as their kicker this time around and with veteran Ray Lewis sure to put on another inspired performance on defense, I think the Ravens will find a way to win in Foxborough.
Patriots 20 Ravens 23

So that’s my breakdown of the game. Feel free to have your say in the comment section below and for more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH

Written by podgeoh92

January 19, 2013 at 10:00 am

Playoffs Preview- AFC Divisional Round

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Ray Lewis

After a typically dramatic wildcard weekend, the Playoffs continue this week with the divisional games just around the corner.

The first of two AFC divisional games takes place on Saturday night as the Baltimore Ravens travel to Denver to tackle the Broncos.

The second game is on Sunday with an intriguing matchup in store as the Houston Texans go on the road to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning

Keys to the Game

When the Ravens have the ball…

Ray Rice

Ray Rice and the Ravens Run Game

  • Running back Ray Rice has seen his role in the Ravens offense reduced this season after he had only 257 carries which was his lowest total since the 2009 season. He wasn’t much of a factor in their wildcard win last week against the Colts either and he rushed for just 68 yards.
  • The Ravens will be looking for Rice to step up in this game against a solid Broncos defense. Joe Flacco can’t do it all by himself and so he needs help from Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce to provided solid support on the ground.

When the Broncos have the ball…

Demaryius Thomas

Peyton Manning vs Ravens Veterans

  • Peyton Manning may be the league’s best veteran offensive player but the NFL’s probable MVP is going up against two of the best veteran defensive players in this one. Two names immediately jump out from the Ravens and those are star linebacker Ray Lewis and playmaking safety Ed Reed.
  • Both players are Future Hall of Famers and Lewis is coming off an emotional game last week when he led the team with 13 total tackles in his final home game. Manning will have to be at his best going up aganist these two leaders in what will be a football version of a chess game featuring some of the smartest players in the game.

Prediction

Ed Reed

The Colts beat the Ravens 34-17 back in week 15 on the road in Baltimore and as the number one seed, they will be the favorites in this game at home in Denver.

However, I see the Ravens pulling off an upset led by star linebacker Ray Lewis on defense along with help from Joe Flacco and the offense.

Ravens 20 Broncos 17

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

J.J. Watt

Keys to the Game

When the Texans have the ball…

Arian Foster

Matt Schaub and the Texans Passing Game vs Patriots Pass Defense

  • It’s no secret that the Patriots pass defense is the team’s biggest weakness and it has been for a number of seasons now. They ranked as the 4th worst team vs the pass this year after giving up over 270 yards to opponents per game.
  • The Texans offense is led by star running back Arian Foster and so they can beat opponents both on the ground and through the air. However, if Foster and the rest of the Texans running game struggles, the pressure will be on Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and co. in the passing game to step up against a poor Pats pass defense.

When the Patriots have the ball…

Tom Brady

Tom Brady vs Texans Pass Rush

  • When the Patriots have the ball we will see two of the best players at their respective positions going up against each other. The headline may say Tom Brady vs the Texans pass rush but it will most likely be a battle of Tom Brady vs J.J. Watt as the Pats quarterback and the league leader in sacks go head-to-head.
  • Watt had 5 tackles and 1 sack last week in the Texans win last against the Bengals and the second year player is coming off a season in which he had an incredible 20.5 sacks. Tom Brady will need to keep a close eye on pressure coming from Watt off the edge every time he drops back to pass.

Prediction

Vince Wilfork

The Texans are back in the Playoff divisional round for the second year in a row but question marks still remain about their ability to take the next step into the Playoffs.

As for the Patriots, playing at home after a first-round bye and Tom Brady and co. will certainly be well prepared for this one by head coach Bill Belichick.

In a high-scoring game, I’m picking Tom Brady and the Pats to come out on top and advance to the AFC Championship Game.

Texans 21 Patriots 31

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

So those are your previews and predictions.

For more Playoff updates, follow me on Twitter.

Follow @PodgeOH