There will be plenty of stars on the field Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium for the AFC title game.
Most of the stars for the Patriots reside on offense. Most for the Ravens are on an impressive defense. New England sports the NFL's No. 3 scoring offense. Baltimore the No. 3 scoring defense.
That's an impressive, championship game worthy matchup of the teams' strengths.
But the game may be decided, in many ways, in a matchup of the teams' perceived weaknesses. For the Patriots that's a much maligned defense that ranked 15th in the NFL in points allowed during the regular season. For Baltimore it's an oft-questioned Joe Flacco-led offense that ranked 12th in the regular season in points scored.
How those two units play against each other could decide which team advances to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
On paper it seems like a pretty even matchup. But a closer look at the two units would appear to show that while neither unit is getting a lot of respect these days, that in some ways the Ravens offense may be the more underrated unit.
New England earned its 15th ranked defensive scoring average (which we all know could have been top-10 had the group allowed 14 less points during the course of 16 games!), against a mediocre mix of opposing scoring attacks. In 2011 the Patriots faced just two teams that finished the season with top -10 scoring offenses – that's the Chargers at No. 5 and Giants at No. 9.
Baltimore earned its No. 12 ranking in scoring by facing 10 different teams ranked in the top-10 in points allowed over the course of the year. In fact, the Ravens faced each of the top 5 scoring defenses, other than their own No. 3 ranked unit. And 11 eleven of their 16 games on the season came against top-11 scoring defenses.
Sure Flacco has been too inconsistent. He's led some bad losses with bad performances on the road. He also put up 100-plus passer ratings in games against the Steelers, Bengals (twice) and 49ers, some of the best defenses in the league.
On the other hand, I'm not sure the Patriots defense has a signature performance against good to great competition.
So while much of the attention in time leading up to Sunday's game will be on the Patriots offensive stars and the Ravens elite defenders, the two teams' lesser units might very well decide how the game plays out.
What do you think of the matchup between the Ravens offense and the Patriots defense? Are you worried? Let us know with a comment below!