The Ravens-Patriots postseason match-up has become nearly an annual occurrence. These two teams will face off in the playoffs for the third time in the last four years tonight in Foxboro. A trip to the Super Bowl will be on the line for the second straight season. Many expect a close, hard fought game, and you can count me among those people. Here are my key match-ups for tonight’s AFC title game.
1. Vince Wilfork vs. Baltimore’s O-Line. The Patriots have been a very tough team to run the ball against all season long. Stellar play from nose tackle Vince Wilfork is largely responsible for that. After holding Arian Foster to under a hundred yards for the second time this season, the Patriots will look to contain Ray Rice in a similar way. It goes without saying that Wilfork will draw a lot of attention from the Ravens in terms of double teams and combo blocks, but if he can stand his ground and take up space in the middle, it will allow Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to fill the gaps and make the tackles on the ever explosive Rice. If Vince is blown off the line, Rice will find a lane and he will break off long runs.
2. Aquib Talib vs. Anquan Boldin. Boldin is probably Baltimore’s best all around receiver. He’s a very physical player, and a lot of corner backs have had a hard time jamming him at the line to slow him up because of that. Talib can answer that physicality and take Bolden out of the game completely. Expect Alfonzo Dennard to be matched up opposite either Jacoby Jones or Torrey Smith, with help coming from Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty over the top. If Talib struggles with Boldin, the defense could be in for a very long day.
3. Tom Brady vs. Ed Reed. It’s safe to say that the Patriots are going to need a huge day from their quarterback in this game. Brady is playing for his legacy at this point, and he needs just one more ring to tie his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, for the most by a quarterback. However, Brady has struggled in the playoffs against Baltimore. The two worst playoff performances of his career both came against the Ravens (2010, 2012). Brady needs to be aware of Ed Reed at all times. The Patriots may be able to exploit the middle of the field in front of Reed, where and aging Ray Lewis will patrol the open space. Wes Welker should be in for a lot of targets, especially early.
Ultimately, I think the Patriots win this game 31-24. Let us know what your keys to the game are in the comments below, as well as predictions!