Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed may unexpectedly find himself on the free agent market this offseason, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated.
Matchup: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots meet for the second straight year in the AFC Championship, with New England defeating the Ravens 23-20 in last year’s championship round. However, Baltimore exacted its revenge in Week 3, beating the Patriots on a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker.
3 Keys to Victory for the Ravens
—Hope Torrey Smith repeats Week 3
In the first meeting this season, Torrey Smith played after losing his brother during the week, absolutely shredding the New England secondary for 127 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Patriots acquired cornerback Aqib Talib midseason from the Buccaneers and Talib has done a respectable job as the number one corner, solidifying the Patriot secondary in the process. Smith will need a few more big plays if the Ravens want to avenge last season’s loss in the AFC Championship matchup.
–Neutralize Wes Welker
With Rob Gronkowski out, Wes Welker is now the most important part of the New England offense, Tom Brady excluded. Welker reeled in eight catches for 131 yards last week against Houston, and collected eight catches for 142 yards in Week 3. Baltimore lost star cornerback Lardarius Webb to a torn ACL in October, so they will be relying on unproven cornerbacks Cary Williams and Corey Graham to shut down the best slot receiver in the NFL.
—Use Ray Lewis’ impending retirement as motivation
Before the postseason started, linebacker Ray Lewis announced that this, his 17th season, would be his last. Lewis’ impending retirement has been a huge motivating factor thus far for Baltimore, and has helped in victories over Indianapolis and Denver. For the Ravens to win on Sunday, they’ll need to use Lewis’ emotion to defeat a more talented New England team.
3 Keys to Victory for the Patriots
—Get the run game going early
When the Patriots get Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley involved early in the game, the offense is basically unstoppable. Ridley was extremely productive this season, rushing for over 1,300 yards, but fumbled twice in Week 3. Vereen is a physical, punishing back who was responsible for three touchdowns last week. If New England gets these two going early in the game, the Patriots could run away with this one.
—Consistently pressure Joe Flacco
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, an impending free agent, has made himself a lot of money this postseason. Flacco was uneven against Indianapolis, but outplayed Hall of Famer Peyton Manning last Saturday in Denver. The signal-caller is a tall, strong-armed quarterback and New England needs to consistently get in his face, or else he’ll beat an inconsistent New England secondary over the top.
—Keep Tom Brady upright and in the pocket
Tom Brady, when he is hot, is one of the most unstoppable players in the league. However, Brady can get flustered in the pocket if he’s pressured, and Baltimore always seems to give Brady fits. Although he is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, Terrell Suggs is always a force on one side of the line, and a much-improved Paul Kruger can wreck havoc in the New England backfield. The New England offensive line needs to keep the Baltimore rush off of Brady if they want to come away with a second consecutive AFC crown.
Nachmany Football’s prediction: Patriots 23-21
On paper, New England seems to be the better team as they are more talented and, more importantly, healthier. That said, Baltimore consistently gives Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots fits, so don’t expect New England to run away with this one. Instead, look for Torrey Smith to burst at least one big play, and a late Stephen Gostkowski field goal to send the Pats to their second straight Super Bowl.