Here is a quick look at how I see the Ravens-Patriots AFC Wild Card game shaping up in bullet-point form.
* Biggest question today is Joe Flacco’s hip. He is hobbling on his plant foot. NFL Network said he re-injured it last week at Oakland, and the cold weather will have an effect on his mobility.
* The run game in the cold has to work consistently to keep pressure off Flacco and keep the Ravens out of third-and-long situations. Expect the Pats to try to shadow Rice closely off the line of scrimmage to keep him from catching balls in the soft zone.
* The game will be won on the offensive line. If Flacco’s mobility is a question, then the line has to hold up in max protect, which might take out Todd Heap as a safety valve option. The line has to open the holes for Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. The Ravens need to average 4 yards on first down today.
* The Ravens have to hold on to the football. In cold weather, the ball is harder to feel, especially with gloves on. When the Ravens do throw, receivers have concern themselves more with securing the ball during the catch than looking for extra yards after the catch first.
* Flacco has a tendency to sail passes because of the issues with his plant leg, due to the hip injury. He has to be comfortable delivering the ball, especially when he is flushed from the pocket.
* Baltimore must get consistent pressure on Tom Brady all day. Brady can not have time to go through his progressions downfield, or he will pick apart the Ravens secondary. Collapsing the pocket and getting legal hits on Brady will slow down the passing game.
* Terrell Suggs has to be a big disruptive force for the Ravens defense. If he can beat the Pats offensive line to get to Brady, New England will have a hard time moving the ball.
* Yes, Julian Edelman is not Wes Welker, but Brady trusts him just as much. It’s about the position (safety valve) more than the player in the Pats system, and Edelman has performed well when asked. The Ravens have to know where he is at all times.
* This could be a big day for the punters, depending on how successful the run games are. Keeping the opponent pinned deep in their own territory will increase the chances of success.
* The Ravens must score first to dictate the playbook to the Pats. Baltimore can survive a 7-point deficit, but if they are down 10 or more, parts of the playbook are deserted, and the Ravens become more one-dimensional. If Flacco can’t move well, a double-digit deficit will be hard to make up.
* Matt Katula has to have the best day of his career as a long snapper. Billy Cundiff could be very busy today, and the Ravens have to get points at every opportunity. No bad snaps today when points will be at a premium.
* Keep the mental penalties (personal fouls, false starts, etc.) to an absolute minimum. The defense has to be aggressive, especially when Brady is vulnerable, but the tackles and hits have to be legal, not cheap. Can the Ravens keep the penalty total under 40 yards (figuring a few pass interference calls)? We’ll see.
PREDICTION: The Ravens get up early, and in a physical battle of the run games, Baltimore 20, New England 17.