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AFC Championship Preview: Ravens at Patriots

A game that will likely cause Steelers fans to reach for the bottle of Rolaids, the AFC North champion Ravens travel to Foxboro to take on the AFC's top seed New England.

It's a match-up rife with contrast, as two teams each do something considerably better than the other.

It's kind of like fire meeting ice.

There's a new-age axiom in business suggesting focusing on improving strength as opposed to improving weakness shows a more efficient path to profit. The Patriots and the Ravens seem to subscribe to that.

The Patriots have had one of the league's worst defenses all season in terms of yards allowed. They don't give up points at the same clip, but they still do not have a great all-around defense. They make that irrelevant largely by simply doubling their opponents' point total.

The classic example was during the regular season when they fell down 21-0 quickly to Buffalo, only to storm back and completely destroy the hapless Bills 49-21. The performance this offense is capable of rivals its historic 2007 team.

Of course, we all know that team was stifled in the Super Bowl when it met a front seven that brought a significant amount of pressure, disrupting the Patriots staple seven-step-and-deep passing attack.

Baltimore has shown that kind of disruptive ability, and could use that en route to its first Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season. The individual talent is there, the question is whether it will all click when it needs to.

Houston did a great job in Baltimore's divisional round win slowing down Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. More of the Ravens' issue in their lack of pass rush was the strategy they employed to stop RB Arian Foster. They kept their linebackers home in an effort to prevent cut-back lanes - Foster's bread-and-butter - and because of that, they didn't dial up nearly the amount of pressure they're capable of unleashing.

That will not happen today.

Look for the Ravens to live and die with defensive pressure. They will blitz from land, air and sea in an effort to disrupt Brady, which is really the only way to defeat the Patriots.

In doing that, they're running the risk of giving up big plays, but it's a gamble they're going to have to take. To them, punts will be as valuable as points, because the Ravens offense will be able to move the ball on New England - something it failed to do against Houston's considerably better defense.

Baltimore must also dial down the game plan to make something very simple and reliant on ball control. The time is gone for the Ravens to try to fit the square peg that is QB Joe Flacco into the round hole that is elite passing status. The Ravens gameplan needs to center it around a dominant offensive line owning a lesser Patriots defensive line, very much like they did against Cleveland earlier this season.

Despite being the underdogs, Baltimore's strength - its defense - can negate the Patriots strength - their passing offense - moreso than the Patriots defense can slow down Baltimore's offense.

Look for the Ravens to run, run and run some more, and look for the Ravens to advance to Indianapolis via a 24-20 victory of the Patriots.