After a long week of analysis the AFC title game is finally approaching. It seems like every minute detail of the Patriots-Ravens matchup has been broken down and dissected in every way imaginable. But sometimes the more complicated we try to make these games, the easier they become.
That's the case this week as the attempt to figure out how this game will unfold. Really it's pretty simple in terms of matchups because it will involve strength against strength - the Patriots offense against the Ravens defense - and weakness against weakness - the Ravens offense against the Patriots defense.
With that in mind, PFW decided to simplify our Samsonite Make Your Case this week and ask which of these two matchups will be more important - The Patriots offense against the Ravens defense or the Ravens offense against the Patriots defense.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Patriots offense vs. Ravens defense
At this point we pretty much know what to expect from the Patriots - the offense will move the ball and score points while the defense will allow some yards and points of their own. I believe the offense is the more reliable of the two units and therefore I believe it's more important for Tom Brady & Co. to resemble their normal selves in order to win.
When the Patriots have lost recently - in the playoffs or otherwise - it's generally been because the team suffered through a rare bad day on offense. Brady has been under heavy pressure and turnovers have plagued them in most of those games. If that happens Sunday, I believe the Patriots will be hard-pressed to win a low-scoring defensive battle.
Instead, the offense needs to continue throwing the ball at a productive rate and put points on the board to take the pressure off the defense. Getting an early lead would obviously be a huge boost for the defense as well, allowing it to settle into the game like it did last Saturday against Denver. The task will be much more difficult against Baltimore but Joe Flacco is not the kind of quarterback who generally puts a ton of points on the board. The Ravens want to get somewhere in the low-to-mid-20s and they believe that will be enough to win.
The offense needs to make sure it isn't.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Ravens offense vs. Patriots defense
I think I have a pretty good feel for how the strengths will match up in this game. The Patriots offense will score a decent number of points against the Ravens, but not as many as they would against a lesser foe. The star-studded defensive unit will make life tough, at times, on Tom Brady. But the opposite will also be true. I'd be stunned if either team's strength laid an egg on Sunday.
But the game will likely be decided by the perceived weaknesses - New England's much-maligned defense and Baltimore's Joe Flacco-led underrated offensive attack. If Flacco can throw the ball like so many other overlooked passers have against New England this season - the Patriots allowed 300 yards or more passing in 10 of 16 regular-season games - then the Ravens have a real chance. And Flacco and his downfield receivers are certainly as capable of that as guys like Chad Henne, Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Fitzpatrick were for their respective teams.
If the Patriots defense continues to gel and be opportunistic in the turnover category, then New England is very likely to roll right into Indy for the Super Bowl. That should be aided by the recent return of Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung. It should help that Rob Ninkovich is coming off maybe his best game as a Patriot. And the confidence level throughout the defense seems to have risen in recent weeks. They think they can get the job done. Now they have to.
Stars shine in the postseason and the teams who live up to their playing strengths often advance to the next round. This time I think the team that gets the best performance and most production from its less-respected unit will live to play another day.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.