While the NFC divisional playoffs provided two surprises, action in the AFC went according to script as the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will square off in a battle of the top two seeds for a ticket to the Super Bowl.
The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers added some spice to the NFL postseason with respective wins over the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, but the Patriots (13-3) and Ravens (12-4) were as reliable as their records.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady put on a clinic with six touchdown passes to tie an NFL playoff record in a 45-10 win over the Denver Broncos on Saturday.
The next day, the Ravens flexed their defensive muscle in stopping the Houston Texans 20-13 to set up a classic showdown at New England’s Gillette Stadium on Sunday where an offensive powerhouse will meet a ferocious defense.
“There’s no one that’s going to overlook a team like that. It would be impossible to do,” Brady told Boston sports radio station WEEI on Monday. “They present a tonne of challenges in all three phases of the game.”
“You watch them yesterday [Sunday], they’re physical, they’re tough, they can cover. They’ve got some of the best players in the history of the NFL at their position,” he added. “We’ve really got our work cut out for us.”
“We’ll use the week to prepare like we always do and really try to be at our best — hopefully be better than we were this past Saturday night,” Brady said.
Brady will need to come up with something magical if the two-time Super Bowl MVP is to top the numbers her put up against the overmatched Broncos.
While those who witnessed the dissection of the Broncos defense were left in awe at Brady’s brilliance, the Patriots quarterback could only see room for improvement.
“There’s ways that we need to be able to improve,” Brady said. “A couple of turnovers hurt us. But for the most part, it was really a good, solid effort.”
“I feel like you win the game and then immediately you’re thinking about the next game,” he said. “So, there’s not too much you take from the game other than winning and moving on.”
Standing between the Patriots and a fifth trip to the Super Bowl in 11 years is one of the NFL’s most menacing defenses led by 13-time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed.
Against Houston, the Ravens put enough points on the board in the opening quarter, then watched their defense wrestle the Texans into submission with four turnovers and intercepting rookie quarterback T.J. Yates three times.
Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champion and seven-time Pro Bowler, will present a much more serious challenge for Baltimore, but it is one Lewis says the Ravens are prepared for.
Super Bowl champions in 2001, the Ravens are unbeaten at home this season, but now must make the short trip north to Foxborough, Massachusetts, to face a team they have beaten just once in seven meetings.
That one win, however, was a pounding of the Patriots in the 2009 divisional round.
“Defensively, for us to come out in the second half [against Houston] and pretty much pitch a shutout, that’s our standard of football,” declared Lewis, the Ravens defensive lynchpin. “All we have to do is be the team that we are.”
“You don’t take a game from this week to next week,” Lewis said.” “That’s the 24-hour rule in this business, win, lose or draw. You are going to see a totally different Ravens team next week because we we’re playing a totally different team in the Patriots.”