The Road To Indy Goes Through New England; AFC Playoffs Preview

By Ryan Whitfield

    The Pats wrapped up a 13-3 season this past Sunday with a decisive victory over the Bills B squad, if you can even call it that. The Pats decided to balance out their season series with Buffalo by completing a 21 point comeback as the Bills had done to New England earlier this year. However, the troubling situation that is reoccurring with New England is their slow starts. They have been able to come back thus far, but such is playing with fire. The Pats need to start fast in the post season because you cannot bank on always coming back, especially with this defense. A definite positive from Sunday were the two best picks from a Patriots defensive back in the past 2 or 3 years now. Sterling Moore made two great reads, and athletic plays to undercut the receivers he was on, on both plays. However, this was not the same squad the Pats faced earlier this year, Stevie Johnson was benched do to the worst touchdown celebration I have ever seen, Steve Chandler went out early with an injury, and Fred Jackson is on the IR. Regardless, the Pats took the number 1 seed in the AFC this year locking up home field advantage while winning 8 straight, so how much can i really complain?

    The beauty of this whole thing this year is the AFC is wide open. I said this recently and it has only become more clear. The 6th seed is a team that 6 weeks ago I believed in, but I no longer have any faith in Cincinnati. The Bengals failed to beat a single good team this year, 0-7 against the playoff field, and backed into the playoffs after losing to the Ravens on Sunday with their fate in their own hands. Luckily for them they head to Houston for Wild Card weekend. Houston has a good running game, and a good defense, though I think it may be a bit over rated. But they have no passing game, something Andy Dalton and A.J. Green could exploit. T.J. Yates, who was banged up on Sunday, is the replacement for Matt Schaub who went down weeks ago. If Dalton, Green, and Benson can get up early on Houston and they have to start relying on the pass it could be a long day for the Texans. It’s honestly a toss up, but as a Pats fan you have to root for the Bengals who we’d automatically draw if they win regardless of Sundays outcome. Sundays matchup on Wildcard Weekend in the AFC is the Bronco’s hosting Pittsburgh. Should be a no brainer right? Wrong. Let me start with the fact that I thought that Tebow could play a different style of football, an ugly, opportunistic, lucky style but winning football nonetheless. In recent weeks though my stance has shifted with Tebow’s personal bad performances, and with team limping into the playoffs on a three game losing streak. And I’ll go deeper on this and say that their defense may have been more over hyped than any other unit in football. They played good against bad teams. They have an aging Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey and young stars in Von Miller and Dumerville, but as a total unit, I was never sold. I said a few weeks back that Rothlesburger being injured really opened things up for the Pats this year. Well now with Mendenhall having an ACL injury and Ryan Clark missing this game due to his blood condition, hey, anything can happen. I have heard some people saying that Mendenhall wasn’t a big enough part of this offense for this to be significant loss because the Steelers are a passing team now. Well to that I say he will be somewhat of a minus, and the offense has struggled enough without a healthy Big Ben. In the four games since he got injured they have put up 14, 3, 27 and 13 points. Take away one score from each game and they are simply awful.

    Regardless, as it is constituted there isn’t a team in that four that scares me right now. So all that leaves left is Baltimore. I have also made my feelings on these guys well known. I think they are old on defense and Flacco is a joke. This season, I intently watched more than half of Baltimore’s games and I believe that with  him at the helms it might as well be the Jets offense out there. On top of that they have been terrible on the road this year just 4-4 and they lost to all bad teams. The single most terrifying aspect of a game against the Ravens is Ray Rice. But anyone who knows Bellicheck knows he can take at least one thing away from you even with this swiss cheese defense. You load 7 or 8 men in the box on every play and take him out of the game and you dare Flacco to beat you. You will give up some yards and points. But in the redzone and in general he will make some mistakes. The Pats would hold them to 17-21 points and will easily post 31. With all of the weapons they have on offense I like the matchup. Spread them out horizontally and line up in single back sets. Use Ridley and Woodhead in the screen game. Branch and Welker play outs and underneath routes and send Gronk and Hernandez on crossing routes with Gronk cutting off short and Hernandez running posts. Take a few shots at Ocho and Underwood deep and challenge those linebackers to have to play in coverage instead of blitzing. Over the middle you keep the ball short to avoid Ed Reed and you challenge deep on the outside. It won’t be a cake walk but you can game plan to beat this team, especially with our tight ends. Keep them away from Reed and challenge the likes of Ray Lewis to keep up with the speed of our tight ends. Once Reed starts creeping into the middle and not respecting the deep ball take a shot and see what happens.

    Overall, this is wide open and the Pats could easily find themselves in Indianapolis. The Pats are loaded on offense as we all know, and we will go as far as they take us. We need to take advantage of mistakes on defense and play tough in the red zone. As far as the superbowl, we will go over that more in the NFC Playoffs preview, but hey any given sunday right?

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