Keys to the AFC Championship

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Hello everyone and welcome back from our various chemically induced comas, apparently the Boston Sports List is back in action. What a great time too, especially if you are a football fan. The road to the Super Bowl runs through Foxborough and Pats are ready for revenge against the Ravens. Here are my keys go the game.

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1. Big Love, Big Daddy, and Brandon Spikes need to dominate the middle like they did last week.

Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork were men last week. It was awesome to watch. Not to mention, Brandon Spikes is healthy and the results were both impressive and immediate. Every time Spikes blitzed the middle, the entire center of the pocket collapsed and forced Tebow out to either side. That’s not usually what you would want to do with Tebow, but with Flacco, I think it will work. Flacco isn’t exactly the most mobile quarterback. I think that the pressure in his face will force him out of the pocket. I like the idea of him being uncomfortable and having to throw on the run. Torrey Smith is the type of straight line speedster that our secondary has struggled with all year. Forcing Flacco to move won’t give him the opportunity to keep his feet under him and deliver the long ball. I’m honestly not that worried about the other Ravens receivers. Anquan Boldin is the second most overrated WR in football (Sorry Ocho!) and Ed Dixon was not what the Ravens thought he would be when they let an aging Todd Heap go. Having that push in the middle will also allow Ninkovich and Mayo to do their thing outside and hopefully keep Ray Rice in check on any screens or off tackle stuff.

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2. Getting the Wide Receivers Involved

If there is a weakness to this Ravens Defense, it would have to be their corners. Therefore, Brady needs to get the wide receivers involved in the passing game. Deion Branch had a good game last week. Why? Mainly because our tight ends required safeties to come up and cover, leaving one on one matchups on the outside. That’s what we need to do. There has been a lot of grumblings about Ochocinco.  A lot of Pats fans have said, “They are just saving him for the playoffs.” Hopefully, we’ll see Sunday.

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3. Tight Ends

See above, really. Our tight ends will keep Ed Reed and the other Ravens safeties busy and that should open up some one on one matchups on the outside. Ed Reed will go down as one of the best safeties of all time, however, I’ll take him matched up on Gronk. I’ll take Hernandez on him too. Especially after being hobbled a bit last week, I’m not sure that Ed Reed can keep with him. Ray Lewis used to be able to cover the tight end too; but he, like Reed has lost a step.

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4. Give me a Woody

Let’s face it. We all know that the Ravens are super aggressive on Defense. We all know that Terrell Suggs wants nothing more than to get up field and get a few shots on our Tommy. Enter Danny Woodhead. I think that we will see at least some variation of the screen game in effect, especially with Josh McDaniels back in the mix calling some offensive plays. If we get up early and come out in passing sets, the Ravens will be sending the house. That would be screen time baby. I think we will see Aaron Hernandez catching a slip screen here and there as well.

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5. Coaching/Health/Reps

Bill Belichick will have these guys ready, he always does. We went 13-3 this year, with spare parts on the offensive line and all over the defense. Think about it, what teams would survive while missing a starting tackle, best safety, #1 corner, starting center, starting DE, starting middle linebacker, and two starting outside linebackers out for multiple games? The answer is us. Belichick did a masterful job of working through injuries this year. He did not want guys back until they could play at a high level. This also allowed reserves to get a lot of reps. He also moved a number of guys around. I think this year has been Belichick’s best year of coaching since he has been here. He has Brady, he has Gronkowski, and Welker on offense and Wilfork on D; but other than that, there really aren’t a lot of stars on this team. Belichick does a great job of rotating guys in, calling plays that are tailor fit for their particular strengths, and making sure that they know what position to be in to call plays. Now with guys like Chung, Spikes, Ninkovich, and McCourty back and healthy, I think that we will see that last week’s Defense played well. As bad as Denver was, I think that our defense and the defensive coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for both the gameplan and the execution last week.

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6. Tom Brady can smell it

Brady can smell the Super Bowl. Say what you want about this guy (and a lot of non-Pats fan do, trust me I know, my brother is an Eagle fan and my uncle is a Giants fan), but he is a competitor. He remembers how bad he played the last time these two teams squared off in the playoffs. If the Brady of last week shows up, it could be a long day for the Ravens. Right now, after a poor first half in Buffalo, Brady is in the zone. He has McDaniels back to help with the offense and I think that they will have a few tricks up their sleeves for the Ravens. If the game does stay close, Brady is the guy you want in crunch time.

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7. The O-Line

Despite the injury bug rearing its ugly head, the Pats O-Line has been unbelievable this year. Especially up the middle. Dan Connelly has played well at center and so have his replacements. Brian Waters has been unreal and Logan Mankins has played well and even shifted to tackle! I think the middle of that line will be key on Sunday. Haloti Ngata is a beast and will need to be contained. If they can control him and keep a guard free to pick Lewis on blitzes, I think we will be ok. On the outside, Matt Light has been great, surprisingly enough. Solder has played well when given the opportunity. Vollmer’s health is a concern, but if our tackles can contain Suggs wherever he lines up, as well as keep the middle under control; I think the Pats offense will be able to consistently move the ball. It will be interesting to see if Belichick will continue to throw Steven Ridley in to pound the rock to create a little bit of balance. While rushing yards will depend on who is in the backfield and what they are able to do, it all comes down to the O-Line vs. the Ravens front seven. If that’s what it comes down to, I like our chances.

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8. Homefield

Enough said. That Pats historically have played well at home and I look for that to continue.

Well, that’s all I got for now. I’m glad the blog is back in action and I can’t wait for Sunday. I’ll have a fresh keg in the kegerator and will be hydrated for Sunday’s game!

-Satchell

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