Guide to “Ballghazi”

courtesy of Slate.com

courtesy of Slate.com

Here’s the video of Bill Belichick’s press conference in which he dispelled the controversy and solved everything:

I have a few strong feelings on this controversy surrounding the New England Patriots. The first of which is that “Ballghazi” far supersedes “Deflategate” as the best name for this incident.

I’m going to start by addressing a few of the biggest accusers of wrong-doing.

Beginning with Bill Nye, the well-known TV scientist.

Nye simply says, “What (Belichick) says didn’t make any sense.”

He does not refute Belichick scientifically. He also claims the “only” way to change the air pressure of a ball is with an air pump.

This is certainly suspicious as multiple professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found Belichick’s explanation “exactly right”.

Nye, who began his career in Seattle with Boeing, may not have been completely objective (unlike the science he purports) because he ends his video with, “Let’s go, Seahawks!”

Speaking of Seattle, I got into an argument with a Seattle beat reporter, Keith Myers, on Twitter yesterday.

He, like Nye, fails to elaborate upon why they’re cheaters other than previous SpyGate. In a series of tweets he claims his physics college degree validates his rebuttal that the weather couldn’t have made the balls deflate. Again I bring up the MIT scientists. He also became agitated when I said that the Adderall problem in Seattle is just as much of an institutional problem as the deflation of footballs.

Even if the Patriots did deflate the balls, why is it such a big story? On the air pressure of footballs, former NFL Quarterback Matt Leinart says “everyone did it” and, earlier this season, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms commented on how Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers likes to illegally inflate balls on national television in a win against the Patriots. 

Everyone from CNN to USA Today to Fox News all agree on two points. One, this story should be a non-story and two, the science is correct. Not that the deflation even matters. The deceleration from the deflation in the ball outweighs the benefit of an enhanced grip. (Guys, strong emphasis on CNN and Fox News agreeing. If they agree, it’s legitimate.)

One more science point: ESPN suspiciously has removed a “Sport Science” video from their site which exonerates the Patriots of any wrongdoing. A friendly Reddit user saved it, then uploaded it to YouTube so you can see it for yourself.

Another point I wonder about is the NFL. Why are football fans assuming that the referees did their jobs correctly by checking the ball? NFL referees are infamous for an inability to do their jobs on the field, what about off the field? Pro Football talk pins the blame for this whole incident on the NFL as well.

Some more facts about Ballghazi:

1. Bob Kravitz, an Indianapolis Colts reporter tweeted out that the NFL was investigating the Patriots for under-inflated footballs. Four days later, the NFL confirmed.

2. D’Qwell Jackson, the Colts Linebacker who intercepted Tom Brady, did not start the investigation.

3. Chris Mortensen reported that 11 of the 12 footballs were 2 PSI under the legal threshold of air-pressure, but that has not been confirmed by anyone or any organization. 

4. Belichick did an internal study and said, in the press conference above, that the balls were closer to 1.0 PSI under, which Pro Football Focus agreed with.

5. Sports On Earth columnist Will Leitch wrote an article in which he brushes over – and the comments reinforce – “Wouldn’t the Colts footballs been a good control group to see if the weather really did affect the footballs?” But that question is perfectly answered by the SB Nation “Deflategate Guide”

NoOneKnowsAnythingThese are all facts. They all point to the exoneration of the New England Patriots.

Now, the Patriots look ahead to the Super Bowl, where they’ll play the Seattle Seahawks, who’ve been jabbing verbal barbs all week. The Patriots have had practice in the past with distractions leading up to the Super Bowl, like SpyGate in 2007.

But this Sunday viewers will finally get what we’ve wanted all along: Silence on Ballghazi and action under the nation’s brightest lights.

If the Patriots win, Ballghazi will fade away. If they lose, it’ll be remembered forever as a reason they lost, unfair to the Seahawks good defense and proof that once a narrative is applied, it cannot be wiped off.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

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Torrential Rain, Touchdowns and a 68,000-Person Chorus: Sunday Night in Gillette

January 438Indianapolis Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano sent up distress flares, begging for rescue.

At least this was the theory of the section I sat in when fireworks exploded accidentally mid-play on a ho-hum 4th-Quarter 1st-down run by New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray during their 45-7 thumping of the Colts in the AFC Championship game.

I didn’t think of the flares as distress signals. Rather, I thought it an eager display of overzealous workers in Gillette Stadium dubbed by my friend Justin Demers, “The Razor”. The workers must’ve gotten so excited they accidentally lit off the fireworks, because the game was over at that point. Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck had just thrown his second pick and the Patriots put in their back-ups in Gray and QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

For those watching at home, it must’ve been a bore to see such utter domination, a lopsided affair lacking the slightest semblance of suspense. When I returned to Syracuse my friends confirmed my suspicion.

“Ugh. Weren’t you bored?” they asked. The answer is no. I was never bored throughout. I experienced their expected tedium as delirium.

In fact, the second-half played more like a concert than contest.

After Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount pounded home a 13-yard TD run with time winding down in the third-quarter to make the score 38-7 New England, a boisterous ruckus exploded.

Strangers hugged, men ran up the stairs high-fiving everyone in sight, my uncle grabbed my shoulders and wouldn’t let go, yelling “What a play!” over and over. Standing throughout the game, a unified crowd of 68,756 belted out Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? as the drenching downpour soaked everyone in the stadium.

The camera panned around the stadium, capturing every sign, each decorated with a different pun about the Colts needing more than “Luck” to win. It seemed clear that the Patriots had forged a path to Glendale, AZ for the Super Bowl – Patriots fans had earlier groaned while watching the Green Bay-Seattle game finish with a miraculous Seahawks come back on both Jumbotrons.

The finishing blow came on the Patriots next possession when Blount – again – crossed the plain for six points. It’d be the final score of the day and The Razor went over its edge.

“Su-per Bowl!” chants rang out sporadically, Blount posed with the Militia Men in the endzone and Scott Zolak, the Patriots radio color analyst, leaned out of his broadcast booth shaking his towel emblazoned with the Patriots slogan “Do Your Job” as he, purple-faced from screaming, rejoiced as the 68-thousand-person chorus practically shrieked out,

I don’t want to lose your love toniiiiiiight!

It was all the celebrating Patriots fans were too nervous to do last week in their 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Unfortunately, Blount’s score sent smug scoundrels scurrying for the exits, confident their team sealed the win, but now just wanted to go home.

“I forgot championships happen every day!” my uncle called after them.

My uncle and me

When the game went final and CBS cut to commercial, players and executives stormed the field. Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s wife planted one on her victorious husband’s lips (met with impressed applause), Gronk donned his “AFC Championship” t-shirt, held up a “Yo Soy Fiesta” sign and danced in a circle of teammates (met with laughs) and RB Brandon Bolden took off his shoulder pads and knelt in prayer on the west end zone line near the podium and did not rise until after the trophy presentation (met with head-bobbing and polite claps).

The trophy presentation: Never have I ever heard a louder collective roar than when Patriots owner Robert Kraft held up the trophy, displaying it to New England faithful.

On the 1.1-mile walk back to our cars from the stadium, I stopped to turn around to look at the stadium one last time.

An elderly man sat on the steel fence next to the sidewalk behind me. His beard patchy, red throwback Steve Grogan jersey tattered and black shoes raggedy.  His eyes were glassy behind thick spectacles and as I looked at him, we both nodded.

His words slurring, he said, “You know, I might never see another one of these. You probably will, but you can never tell what’s going to happen after tonight.

“But don’t worry about tomorrow. Just remember this moment for the rest of your life.”

I nodded, took a long, final look back at the glistening Gillette gem, put my head down and trudged back towards the car.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Madden-ingly Mad

I jammed that X button with the ferocity one might use to stomp out a cockroach.

Just as a satisfied smile curled at the edge of my lips, I heard a yell and a smashing sound. The guy sitting next to me had just Gronk-spiked his XBOX controller.

It was a mistake to turn in his direction and extend a mocking handshake of “sportsmanship”. It was probably a worse idea to say, “Nice try,” before I felt my chair knocked out from underneath me.

Suddenly he had me backpedalling, my body teetering at about a 45-degree angle. I hit the shaky metal dorm bed with my back and my head rocked backwards on to the thin mattress.

An icy grip curled around my throat. I struggled, but couldn’t shake him off. As the weight on me increased, breathing became harder and I thought to myself: Maybe Madden has gone too far.

***

About a week after I’d moved in to my dorm at Syracuse University, I tried to turn my XBOX on for the first time. It wouldn’t work. Something about my controllers wouldn’t connect; neither would any I borrowed from friends.

I was irritated. I’m not usually a huge video game guy, but a game of NBA 2K sounded like the perfect Sunday afternoon relaxer. Except now it wouldn’t work.

Wandering around the dorm, I saw one of my friends and we played FIFA in his room.

Not long after, a couple of friends and I devised to have a 16-team FIFA tournament in our floor’s lounge. I got pretty into it, playing warm-up matches and sort of practicing because I wanted to hold my own and at least play a respectable game in front of my peers. As I played more, I approached the precipice of a steep slope.

After it was over – I lost in the semi-finals – I wanted to keep playing games, but FIFA wore on me, so I changed it up.

By this time I had given up on my XBOX, so one day when I had the itch to play I walked into my friend Alex’s room and said, “Madden anybody?”

***

We ended up playing so much we just set-up a league.

Alex, his roommate Robbie and I were constantly either playing or trash-talking about Madden for about a week. Once, while sitting on Alex’s bed, I condescendingly chided him about a franchise he had created. During his fantasy draft, he selected Carlos Hyde as his starting Running Back and Blake Bortles as his starting Quarterback. (Both are unproven rookies on their NFL teams.)

I said his team was filled with hopeful projects, he saw promising rookies that would collectively ascend to greatness. He also dared me to do better.

I took his challenge. Robbie, who was in the room as well, interjected, saying he could draft a better team than both of us.

To settle the dispute fairly, we established the league.

It had these parameters: Everyone had to pick a team in the same division (so we’d play each other at least twice per year) and we could fantasy draft our teams so that we’d have total control of our destinies.

Leading off the choices, I selected to own the Jacksonville Jaguars of the AFC South. I like reclamation projects. Alex went with the Tennessee Titans and Robbie chose the Indianapolis Colts. To be clear, the other 29 teams were playing, just A.I.-controlled.

One November night, we sat down in front of the television set in Alex and Robbie’s room, which is pretty large for a dorm.

The draft started. We were on the clock.

***

The first year was rather uneventful.

I had gone defense-first in the draft, taking players like Free Safety Earl Thomas, Defensive Tackle Ndamakoung Suh and DT Nick Fairley. Then I established an offensive line. My skill position players were the furthest thing from impressive with Case Keenum at Quarterback and Jeremy Maclin my top wideout. I also liked using laterally-quick, slashing Running Backs, which made Eddie Lacy not a great scheme fit for my team. (Maybe that’s why I finished third.)

Alex won the division with a team Quarterbacked by Eli Manning, throwing to top-Receiver A.J. Green. His team was young and solid, deep all-around, but dominant nowhere. Still, it made for a successful team.

Robbie finished second, perhaps because his Wide Receivers were headlined by Calvin Johnson and Sammy Watkins while LeSean McCoy handled the rushing. Kirk Cousins could throw a 10-yard slant, so getting the ball to Johnson was good enough to let him do the rest of the work.

In the offseason after the first year, our friend Jack jumped in, assuming control of the struggling Houston Texans, who had finished 2-14 the year previous.

I don’t mean to pin this on Jack, but coincidentally, looking back, this is where everything started to slide down a dangerous hill.

***

We started playing all the time. With the four of us playing each other twice per year in divisional games, each person had to play six games per season (A.I. games were simulated).

We created a group chat and it blew up regularly with either trash talk, league updates, or someone demanding others in the league to drop homework and come by to play.

As we locked-up players during the re-sign players, fiercely battled one another for free-agents and mercilessly competed during the draft, it began to get serious.

Robbie’s team began to struggle as he would throw a few interceptions with Cousins, then bench him in favor of Terrelle Pryor, his backup, (Robbie loves mobile QBs) which would decrease Cousins confidence. Inevitably, Robbie would toss a few more picks with Pryor and make another switch. The QB carousel continued when he drafted Abraham Meyer, a mobile QB. After four games, Robbie had seen enough. Then, absurdly, Robbie traded Cousins and pennies for the shiny dollar of Peyton Manning.

Jack heard all about Manning from Robbie because Jack had been very vocally critical of Robbie’s strategy of acquiring a Quarterback, then throw a few picks with said QB and bench him,

An intense rivalry developed between the two, cemented by a brutal bidding war over a free agent that became so intense the player not bidding was forced to leave the room because the other worried about spying on the bid.

As we played more league games, we evolved as Madden players, learning the tendencies of one another in certain situations (Jack runs some variant of Cover 2 every defensive play). It made me understand that, since the NFL’s intra-divisional rivals experience the same thing, why the games were such a big deal.

Simulations were uncontrollable, but go 6-0 in your division and you significantly increase your chances of capturing the division crown. But mostly I wanted to win because I didn’t want to go to the dining hall that night, only to hear about how much I sucked in Madden from the guy I had just lost to.

Jack had inherited a depleted Texans squad, and he was new, so he finished 2-14 for the second-straight year while the order of the standings remained unchanged in our second year: Alex, Robbie, me.

***

Inexplicably the next season, Manning retired and Robbie, vowing never to play a game with Pryor at Quarterback, drafted some auto-generated guy named Tiger Landry. He wasn’t great at throwing a long bomb or scrambling.

It took two games for Robbie to trade for a new QB, this time Andrew Luck.

Three seasons in, our league had developed some tendencies outside of the virtual game.

We trash-talked constantly, especially when one league member had other plans which prevented from everyone drafting or signing free agents.

(Oh, side note: I won a free-agent bidding war with Robbie, signing free-agent QB A.J. McCarron headed into our third season. Attention NFL: Apparently McCarron will be a 90 overall by 2017. Ditto to Alex’s Ryan Nassib.)

Squabbling between Robbie and Jack increased, as well as everyone’s frustration with one another.

We each had a different way of sitting in our chair during games that spoke about our demeanor to the game. Alex sat crisscross applesauce and calmly looked at the screen while (usually) winning, until he’d slam the controller and yell if he played poorly, but only if the problems were extreme. Robbie hunched over, resting his elbows on his knees, shoulders arched and leaning in towards the TV, ready to curse out his Quarterback the minute a deep pass didn’t work. Jack stretched his legs until he’d be leaning back in the chair and his legs were straight while his hands calmly lay in his lap, holding the controller; when things went wrong he just sort of threw up his arms in disgust. I sort of did the same thing as Robbie, but sometimes I’d sit back and just let the action unfold. Loud, boisterous, bragging was how I was when I won, but I’d get sulky and silent when things didn’t go my way, which was often.

A few times even, the conflicts got physical between Robbie and someone else (usually me) because, well, one shove would lead to another and then we were tackling one another in the small confines of the dorm room.

There’s some analogy there about two NFL linemen living in a glass broom cupboard.

***

My team experienced a reversal of fortune by the league’s fourth season, suddenly winning consistently. I finished 5-1 in the division, toppling Alex’s reign of terror and ending his bid for a four-peat.

Playing the last, division-clinching game I beat Robbie and that’s when I said, patronizingly, “Nice try” and he knocked me out of my seat.

Do I realistically think he was going to strangle me? No, of course not. Did it scare the hell out of me to get choked out? Uh, yes. It was enough to think to myself, Maybe this has gone too far.

The league had petered on the edge of being too intense, feeling too much like it made me dislike my friends as it brought out the worst in all of us. I’d lose, become irate and curse out my players, walking from the room saying, “I hate Madden! I’ll never play again!” until 20 minutes later when someone knocked on my door and challenged me.

I was teetering on the edge of telling the guys I wanted out of the league; we were spending too much time playing, scheduling our work on finals around it. The level of intensity had ramped up to a level I couldn’t enjoy, or even handle.

***

I seethed at Robbie as he let the play clock wind down.

I had a commanding lead in our game, we were both under stress to play Madden and complete finals work and I wasn’t letting up. Ahead by more than three touchdowns, I still threw the ball and, in a spiteful way, tried to run-up the score. Robbie would go into punt block, allowing me to score by removing all defenders from the passing game, and try to get the ball back because he would simply make me wait every excruciating second to run a play.

Once he figured out he could take penalties and the game clock wouldn’t start at all, he began to do that. We were, quite literally, stuck in time. With a Syracuse game in the Carrier Dome just minutes away from starting, I began to yell at Robbie to snap the ball, which he belligerently refused to do.

Eventually, disgusted, I left the room and heard sounds of Alex and Robbie grappling, trying to wrest control of Robbie’s controller to end the game. Eventually Alex ran out the clock and the game was recorded. Final score: 70-21. But it didn’t matter because everyone was so angry afterwards (including me) because the game was bringing out the worst in us.

Robbie was pissed I ran up the score; I was equally angry at him for not losing with grace.

Then, if our league was at the edge of a very steep drop, this was the moment it fell over it.

One night while 24-hour quiet hours were imposed, I got into a yelling match with Robbie about a trade we had shaken hands on of which he was now backing out. The players involved don’t matter. Who was right and who was wrong doesn’t matter. I only remember Robbie saying he wouldn’t follow through with the deal and I turned redder than a steamed lobster.

I walked out of Robbie and Alex’s room, into my own and said I was done with the league.

Everyone agreed that there was no sense to push the situation. The league disbanded. That’s how it ended. We left for Christmas break on Dec. 11.

Rather, that was the way it was supposed to end.

We got back to school yesterday, Jan. 11. I went to next door to visit Alex and Robbie in their room. They came back to mine and somehow Jack ended up in there and, as we all stood around, I asked if everyone was really done with the league.

We all looked around, saying nothing but judging reactions.

“I never said I was done,” Alex said.

And that was all that needed to be said.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Baltimore Ravens-New England Patriots Preview

courtesy of ESPN.com

courtesy of ESPN.com

Apparently two years has not softened Terrell Suggs’ opinion on the New England Patriots. After the Baltimore Ravens’ victory in the 2012 AFC Championship, he deliriously yelled that the Patriots were “arrogant f—–s”. This year, he’s toned it down to accusing the New England squad of just being “arrogant”.

The New England Patriots (1) host the Baltimore Ravens (6) on Saturday, January 10 at 4:35 p.m.

This is the fourth postseason in the last six years in which Baltimore will play New England. Not only that, but each time the Ravens have taken to the road. Of the previous three results, Baltimore has won twice. In all three contests, the Ravens defense has kept Tom Brady and the Patriot offense to 20 or fewer points. (That’s why NE -7.5, the opening Vegas line, will definitely be covered by Baltimore.)

  • 2009 Wild Card: Baltimore defeats New England 33-14
  • 2011 AFC Championship: New England defeats Baltimore 23-20
  • 2012 AFC Championship: Baltimore defeats New England 28-13

And, as you can probably tell, I’m a shameless New England homer. This is why I’ve asked my good friend Alex Keller, Baltimore Ravens fan, to write a dueling column as to why he believes the Ravens will win and I can keep my conscience clean and ignore all possible negative scenarios for the Patriots.

DuelingColumns

Why the Ravens will win… 

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots have met for a playoff battle on three occasions since 2009, with the Ravens winning all three.

The history books may tell you differently if you were to look back at the 2011 match-up, but believe me, Baltimore would have won that game if not for the most egregious drop in playoff history by Lee Evans.

So, the point is, in the past five seasons the Ravens have gone up to Foxborough, MA and outplayed the Patriots in all three of their games.

Not only have the Raven’s outplayed the Patriots in their head-to-head games, but they have been the better playoff team as well. Since Harbaugh became head coach of the Ravens, they have more playoff wins than any other team in the league, boasting a 10-4 record. During that same span, the Patriots are a mediocre 6-6, despite playing eleven of those twelve games at home.

The main reason for the Ravens being such a great playoff team, and why they have had the advantage over the Patriots is their normally average quarterback, Joe Flacco. In his last two playoff games against Brady (I would include their first meeting, but Flacco only threw the ball ten times), Flacco has made fewer mistakes and been a better overall quarterback.

If you do not believe me, here are the numbers from their past two meetings to prove it:
Flacco: 546 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT
Brady: 559 yards,1 TD, 4 INTs

This should come as no surprise to “Cool Joe” supporters. In fact, it can be argued that Joe Flacco is the best playoff quarterback in the NFL. Flacco is the all-time leader in road playoff wins with seven. He has the record for most consecutive games with a 100 or better passer rating, and he has a 17:1 touchdown to interception ratio since the 2011 in the playoffs.

So, as disappointing Flacco is to most Ravens fans during the regular season, once he makes it to the playoffs, I would take him over Brady in heartbeat. Some may think it will be difficult Flacco to outperform Brady again. New England has a better secondary than the Ravens have ever seen, and Baltimore has six defensive backs on the Injured Reserve (five of them cornerbacks), including their number one corner, Jimmy Smith.

Aside from better cornerback play, which I will get to in a moment, the main reason the Ravens will not be ripped to shreds by the New England passing attack is their tenacious pass rush. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have the most sacks of any duo of teammates in the league. The addition of Haloti Ngata and the emergence of young players like Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan give the Ravens the ability to put significant pressure on even the best pass blocking teams.

Now on to the secondary. A unit that I saw give up six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger in their first meeting in Pittsburgh has completely turned it around.

I give all the credit to one man, and he will play a huge role in slowing down New England’s passing attack: Rashaan Melvin. Melvin, an undrafted, second-year player started out the year on the Buccaneers, but was cut after week one. The Raven’s then signed him off the Miami Dolphin’s practice squad to be their number two corner across from Lardarius Webb, who is playing the best football of his career.

Ever since signing Melvin in week 15, the Ravens have only given up two passing touchdowns and then only one, compared to six, last week in Pittsburgh.

Melvin embodies everything great about this Ravens team. He is a fighter and overcame what seemed insurmountable adversity.

The Ravens are a team that have signed four practice squad cornerbacks. A team that elected Justin Forsett it’s MVP for the year, a player who would have found himself out of football if not for the Ray Rice debacle. They are a team who led the league in players sent to the IR, and still managed to make the playoffs, the first to ever accomplish that feat.

In conclusion, the Ravens are playing like a team with something to prove, and this roster filled with what are supposed to be washed up veterans, no-name signees and emerging rookies will relish being the road underdog. –AK

Why the Patriots will win…

A scary thing about the three previous Baltimore games for New England is that each time the Patriots had a sterling home record going in, but it didn’t help. In 2009 New England was 8-0 at home; 2011, 7-1; 2012, 6-2. (This year, the Patriots went 7-1.)

Yes, the Patriots’ home-field advantage is nearly negated against Baltimore because of their sustained success at Gillette, and boding well is that not a lot has changed for the Ravens since 2012 roster-wise.

But there’s one huge difference between that 2012 game and this one: Rob Gronkowski.

The eye-test is enough to tell that the New England offense is a completely different weapon with Gronk than without, just look at Week 17’s Buffalo Bills game. Without him, they’re a slingshot; with him, a high-powered, tricked-out missile that you can fire from 50 miles away and hit a penny lying on the ground. He’ll be raring to go – “mad eager” in Gronk-speak – to carry the Patriots back to his second Super Bowl.

Whereas Gronk was hurt last time around, it’s Baltimore who’s ailing now. In a Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans, the Ravens lost both their starting tackles, which pushes standout Guard Marshal Yanda to tackle, a structural weak point. This problem was exposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers when Justin Forsett, he of the 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, managed just 36 yards on 13 carries last week against Pittsburgh.

Even worse for the Ravens? The Patriots allowed just 79 rushing yards per game over the last eight games of the regular season, stuffing the line with three, 325-pound linemen in Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga.

This means the Patriots should be able to shut down the rushing attack and focus on solely the passing game, where New England has the best cover corner in the NFL in Darelle Revis, and Brandon Browner who is elite physically. New England will most likely take away deep-play threat Torrey Smith with Revis and let Browner get physical with Steve Smith, Sr. in what could get feisty. Strategically, Browner could agitate Smith Sr., hoping for him to forget the game and incur a penalty. Either way, the coverage will be too good once Flacco is forced to pass.

Worrisome for the Patriots, however, is the Ravens defense. Their history against Brady is good, all three previous games they hit, hurried or sacked the New England Quarterback early and often. Dean Pees, the Ravens third-year Defensive Coordinator, was the DC for New England from 2006-2009 and certainly knows how to dial up a blitz package that Brady may find, well, not very fun. The Ravens defense is 23rd against the pass with 248.7 yards per game allowed, but their terrific run defense, 4th in the league (88.3 ypg) bolsters it. Plus, the set of ‘Backers the Ravens have in Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and CJ Mosley are an elite core. Granted, they are known more for their pass-rushing prowess, but the Patriots should be wary because all four are competent coverage LBs. If Gronkowski is to be slowed – he can’t be stopped – then this group may be it.

Once again, though, the Patriots find solace, this time in the fact that Baltimore’s corners this season have been mediocre, and that’s being generous. Plus the Patriots are truly rolling with Brandon LaFell. Any hope the Ravens have of succeeding hinges on creating pressure on Brady with the LBs and newly-reinstated Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata. They may hamper New England’s running game, but the Patriots offensive line has been protecting Brady particularly well as of late. The Patriots have second-best passing-blocking Offensive Line are tied for the fourth-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL.

So once the Patriots shut down the running game, they can dial up coverage schemes that will make Flacco force throws once the pressure bears down. That’s what the Houston Texans did in Week 16 when Flacco tossed three picks. Then the Patriots will exploit a bad Baltimore secondary, picking it apart with dink-and-dunks to receivers on the outside and occasionally stretching the field with Gronkowski and some jamming runs up the middle with a Running Back you probably haven’t heard of yet that’s still on the practice squad.

The multitude of options on offense create long, grinding drives that allow a then-rested defense to dominate a depleted offensive unit for the Ravens, ensuring New England’s sound victory over the Ravens that won’t come down to its kicker. –SF

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Alex Keller is also a freshman at Syracuse University and a welcome contributor to this site whenever he likes. You can follow him on Twitter @AGKe11er.