It should be a crazy weekend in the NFL, as the divisional round of the playoffs get ready to kick off. The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will get everything started Saturday in Foxborough.
Let’s take a look at the five most intriguing storylines.
1. Can Joe Flacco keep it going?
It feels like we have this same conversation every year, is Joe Flacco “elite?” He is rather marginal in the regular season, but there is something about that January air that causes him to play like a mad man. After beating the Steelers last Saturday, Flacco has now won five consecutive playoff games while throwing a ridiculous 13 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the process. He also boasts seven road playoff wins in his career, which is the most in NFL history. Flacco will attempt to keep proving the doubters wrong as he leads his Ravens into Foxborough this weekend.
2. Ravens receivers vs. Patriots secondary
Last week saw Steve Smith eat up the Pittsburgh secondary to the tune of five catches for 101 yards. Things might not come as easily to Smith this week. Depending on how the Patriots decide to utilize their coverage, the veteran may very well line up against Darrelle Revis.
Odds are that the Patriots won’t have Brandon Browner chase around a speedy Torrey Smith, especially considering the physical cornerback tends to get penalized too much in these types of matchups. So that leaves a couple of options. They could either let Revis shadow Torrey and put Browner on the other Smith or bring Kyle Arrington on to cover the speedier option.
3. Ravens front-seven vs. Patriots offensive line/Tom Brady
Tom Brady has very few weaknesses, which is why he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer one day. But like we have seen in the past, the proper game plan can fluster him. It’s quite simple actually, get pressure on him. As shown in previous years, Brady becomes a different quarterback when you get pressure in his face. The Ravens, who live and die by their front seven, sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times last week. If they can again find a way to get that kind of heat on the quarterback, you can bet this will be a close game.
4. Tom Brady vs. Ravens secondary
Simply put, this Baltimore secondary is an abomination. Jimmy Smith is on injured reserve and Lardarius Webb has never been the same since tearing his ACL. This leaves the Ravens having to rely on newly signed Antoine Cason (who was cut by the Panthers), Rashaan Melvin and Anthony Levine. On paper, Tom Brady should eat this group alive, but a lot will depend on game flow. If the Ravens get pressure on Brady, you will see a lot of three-step drops and quick throws to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. If they don’t get pressure, that will likely lead to a rather extensive Patriots blowout.
5. Which Patriots running back will receive the most touches?
Death, taxes and Bill Belichick utilizing a different running back every week. Those are the three things in life you can rely on. As for this week, the game flow will dictate the rotation. If the Patriots get out to an early lead, they will look to ride LeGarrette Blount to the finish line. However, if the between the tackles stuff doesn’t work, we could be looking at the Shane Vereen show, meaning he should see about 10-to-12 carries and about four-to-five receptions out of the backfield. You also have to factor in Jonas Gray, whom it feels like we haven’t seen since his 200 yard outburst in week 11 against the Colts. There is no way of ever predicting who will be the lead horse among these three, but Belichick always seems to push the right buttons, so let’s trust him.
Photo: USA Today