We're coming down to the wire of the 2011-2012 NFL Season and only 4 teams remain. In the first game, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady take on Ed Reed and the ferocious defense of the Baltimore Ravens.
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday 3:00 pm ET in Foxboro, Massachusetts at Gillete Stadium.
NFL odds have the Patriots as a firm touchdown favorite on the spread and the total for this game is listed at 50.5.
The Baltimore Ravens ground out a 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional game but now they are forced to face a well oiled machine in the New England offense. The Patriots defense has some holes but does Baltimore have the ammunition offensively to keep up with a New England Patriots team that demolished the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow 45-10?
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
This is a quarterback that commands respect from his teammates the opposition, his own coaches, New England owner Robert Kraft, the fans of New England, and all NFL fans around the world. Tom Brady will go down as one of the best if not the best quarterback in NFL history. Brady is the complete package. He can take the hits, deliver the ball in it's proper place by dinking and dunking or going deep, and has ice water running through his veins during crucial moments of a football game. This is a player that was underestimated in college and now is feared by every team in the NFL.
If any of you didn't believe that Tom Brady wasn't the best quarterback in the NFL, you should after last week. Brady set a record by throwing 5 first half touchdown passes and 6 for the game. Let's face it folks, if this man wanted to throw 8 or 9 TD passes and run the score up on "Tebowmania" he could've done so quite easily. Although the name Brady exudes greatness, he has a lot of assistance from his receiving core, and running back.
Brady to "Gronk"
This is a connection that's been unstoppable all season as tight end Rob Gronkowski set a regular season record for touchdowns by a tight end with 17. Against Denver, Gronk was a beast as he had 10 catches for 145 yards and 3 touchdown receptions. This is a massive man at 6 foot 6, 265 pounds that has speed and strength. Quite frankly, the secondary has a difficult time tackling him. This 2nd year player will face his first legitimate test in the defense of Baltimore that sports two of the best defenders in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.
New England looks quite unstoppable but the Ravens have Super Bowl experience also with the legendary play of linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis is somewhat of a Peyton Manning type of player that is like a coach on the field. The only difference is that Lewis unleashes the punishment against the Peyton Manning's of the world (QB's).
Sharing a future home
I won't mention Gronkowski due to his youth but Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed will all have something in common at the end of their NFL careers. They'll all have busts in Canton, Ohio and be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Obviously nobody overlooks the body of work of Tom Brady and Ray Lewis but Ed Reed has been the best safety in the NFL for years and people have overlooked his abilities because he keep's a low profile.
"New England's headache"
I'm referring to veteran safety Ed Reed. He's the same Ed Reed that intercepted the ball at the end of the divisional game against Houston and sealed their fate. While leaping up for the ball with a hunger that you'll never see from most safeties, Reed came down awkwardly on his ankle and had to be carried off of the field. He later stood up, but this is something to keep an eye on because Ed Reed can change the entire complexion of this game while Ray Lewis attempts to make Tom Brady think twice if he takes an extra second in the pocket to find the open receiver.
For his career, Reed has 57 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, and 120 pass defenses. I'm fond of Darelle Revis but there should be another location named "Reed Island". To sum it up, Ed Reed is the silent assassin that makes the plays and waits for the next play without doing a victory dance.
If Trent Dilfer can lead a team to a Super Bowl, quarterback Joe Flacco is also capable. Flacco is sometimes overlooked. His job will be to stay away from making mistakes and whether it be on the ground or through the air, find running back Ray Rice. Rice is the heart of the offense and accounted for 2068 all-purpose yards and 15 TD's. New England's defense isn't as strong as it once was and look for Rice to be effective in this game.
On a sidenote, quarterback Joe Flacco was seen skateboarding on his driveway recently. Flacco claims that he's never skateboarded before. I have news for Joe. You're one game away from the Super Bowl and one fall away from a season ending injury!
Outcome of the game
I like New England in this game but I respect the Baltimore Ravens defense enough to prefer a pick on the total. Brady isn't going to stop putting points on the board but the Ravens defense is a lot tougher than Denver's. Take the under in this spot in your Conference Championship picks.
AFC Conference championship pick is New England/Baltimore Under 50.5