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Five incredibly early thoughts on the Patriots, the Ravens, Tom Brady, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and the AFC’s most underrated rivalry

01.15.12 at 4:56 pm ET
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Five very early thoughts on the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Ravens, set for next Sunday (3 p.m. on WEEI 93.7 FM) at Gillette Stadium:

1. This will be the first time these two teams have met this year. The last time the Patriots faced the Ravens was back on Week Six of the 2010 season, and in that one, New England came away with a 23-20 win over Baltimore in a really good ballgame that featured, among other things, the final Tom Brady interception of the 2010 regular season and Stephen Gostkowski‘€™s first career overtime game-winner (a 35-yarder to win it in extra time). There are several differences between the two teams since then, including the fact that the Patriots now lean much heavier on their two young tight ends than they did early last season. Overall, the Patriots are 6-1 lifetime against the Ravens, with the one loss coming in the 2009 wild card matchup at Gillette, a game Baltimore won relatively easily, 33-14. More on that game later.

2. The Patriots were able to slay some of their recent postseason demons on Saturday night when they halted a three-game playoff losing streak with the decisive win over the Broncos. They’€™ll get a chance to take that a step further with a victory over the Ravens, a team that contributed to that three-game losing skid with a painful playoff beatdown back in 2009. That 33-14 loss (which started with an 83-yard touchdown run from Ray Rice on the first play from scrimmage and got worse from there) was a particularly ugly loss for New England — it marked the first home playoff loss for the Patriots since 1978, the first time the Patriots were one-and-done in the postseason in the Bill Belichick era. In addition, Brady suffered the first postseason home defeat of his career, and the Patriots suffered the first loss in franchise history to Baltimore.

In many ways, that contest, as well as memorable regular-season games in 2007, 2009 and 2010 between the two teams have fueled what could be one of the NFL’€™s most underrated rivalries. Terrell Suggs has never been at a loss for words when it comes to talking about Tom Brady and the Patriots (particularly the Brady rule), and he should be at his voluble best in the days leading up to the game.

3. Despite the fact that the Ravens have now advanced to the AFC Championship Game, they remain the ultimate trick-or-treat franchise: they have beaten several good teams ‘€” they’€™ve swept Pittsburgh, and posted solid wins over San Francisco, Houston, the New York Jets and Cincinnati. Meanwhile, they’€™ve submitted some of the worst performances in the league this season, having lost to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego, four teams who missed out on the playoffs. One of the biggest differences comes down to their home/road splits: Baltimore was just 4-4 on the road over the course of the regular season, playing ragged, uninspired football at some bad times.

4. The Baltimore offensive line was handled relatively easily on Sunday by a young an aggressive group of defenders in J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Cosmo Kramer lookalike/Official WEEI.com 2009 draft binky Connor Barwin. On the surface, the Patriots cannot match the level of pressure that the Texans can bring, but based on what we’€™ve seen over the last month or so, New England will be able to replicate a reasonable facsimile of what Houston showed when it comes to pressure on Flacco.

5. Expect lots of Ed Reed talk this week. Belichick has been known to swoon over Reed, so much so that his players take great delight in needling him about his well-known man crush. ‘€œThere’€™s no way that I could overstate (Reed’€™s) playmaking and just playing ability,’€ Belichick said last year. (For more on Belichick’€™s feelings about Reed, check out the video here.) For what it’€™s worth, his players agree with Belichick’€™s assessment: ‘€œHe just makes some spectacular plays,’€ Brady said in 2009. ‘€œHe’€™s fun to watch from a quarterback’€™s standpoint because you really appreciate what he’€™s able to do. It’€™s a great defense and he’€™s one of the leaders. … Ed is as good as anybody.’€ It remains to be seen what sort of impact he’€™ll be able to have on Sunday’€™s game — it looked like he was banged up on Baltimore’€™s last defensive stand against the Texans — but if he’€™s healthy, expect him to be top priority for the New England offense every time it breaks the huddle.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Cosmo Kramer
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