From the moment the Ravens completed their demolition of the Steelers last Saturday night, the word most associated with the Patriots pending divisional round matchup with Baltimore has been "fear." As in, are you afraid of playing the Ravens – the team that knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs twice in three postseason tries in Foxborough over the past five years?
Patriots Football Weekly's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during Saturday's AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
While some have quibbled with the term and instead replaced it with "respect," few if any didn't look at the matchup with at least a little hesitation. Particularly in light of the Patriots last three divisional round opponents – Tim Tebow's Broncos, an overwhelmed Texas team and last year's Colts – the Ravens represent a much more formidable obstacle.
We can all debate whether there is reason to worry or not, but on the field the Ravens to cause some problems. They racked up 49 sacks, second only to Buffalo, and their quarterback, Joe Flacco, is currently in the midst of one of the most prolific stretches of postseason play in NFL history.
With that in mind we figured we'd take a look at some of the matchups and our Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is – Which matchup worries you most in Saturday's game?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Terrell Suggs vs. Nate Solder
Nate Solder has had an up-and-down year. He struggled down the stretch, seemingly leading to struggles by Tom Brady and the rest of the New England offense. Terrell Suggs is a violent, excitable, productive veteran off the Ravens right defensive edge with the size, speed and motor to make life hard on Solder all evening long. He had 12 sacks this year and can be disruptive in both the running game and the passing game.
Solder has had issues dealing with both power and speed in recent weeks. If Baltimore is going to pull the upset the Ravens defense is going to have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. If that happens with Suggs getting the best of Solder, Brady will be in trouble.
Solder is capable of winning this matchup. But his recent play has to be a bit of a concern heading into a game in which the season in on the line, as is the success of the offense, with the well-known Brady-hater Suggs looking to get to No. 12 on every snap.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Ravens WRs vs. Patriots CBs
I know the Ravens pass rush is getting all the attention, but hasn't been discussed as much is Joe Flacco's ability to light up the Patriots in the past. I understand the Patriots defense is much better than it was when those games took place, and I agree that Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner are better players than those they replaced. That doesn't mean I'm not concerned.
Baltimore's receivers Steve Smith and Torrey Smith are talented veterans who have shown the ability to make big plays in big games. Steve Smith went over 100 yards last week against Pittsburgh, and Torrey Smith knows how to find the end zone in the playoffs.
While I don't expect either to dominate against Revis and Browner, all it takes is one or two big plays to turn the tide of a playoff game. I particularly worry about Browner getting beat deep if he's covering Torrey Smith for any length of time.
Long passes and penalties haven't really hurt the Patriots secondary all season but the potential to do so exists on Saturday.
Now it's your turn to cast your vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.