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Playoff debate, Part IV

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  January 8, 2010 06:47 PM

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Before the Patriots and Ravens face off in the AFC playoffs on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, I'll be facing off with Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Van Valkenburg. Kevin and I will be talking about one topic related to the game each day leading up to it.

Tuesday, we discussed who had the advantage in the passing game.
Wednesday, we discussed which team will complain more about the calls.
Thursday, we asked which team has the edge on defense?

Today's topic:
Which of these flawed teams has a better chance to make a surprise Super Bowl run?

Kevin Van Valkenburg:
Chris, excuse me for a second while I take a massive swig of Purple Kool-Aid. It can be tough to keep down, and tends to cause occasional delusions and violent convulsions, so bear with me.

[Sounds of coughing are followed by spastic pre-game dancing to Nelly's "Hot in Here."]

Ok, so here is why the Ravens, if they can get by New England, can make a surprise run to the Super Bowl. Did you see what Willis McGahee did to that poor Raiders cornerback last week on his 77-yard TD run? People here are already calling it the best stiff-arm they've ever seen, but I don't even think it was a stiff arm. I think it was like a Andre Agassi running forehand to the temple. The guy's head was the first thing to hit the turf. The Ravens can run the ball, play defense, and they have attitude, three things you can't fake in the playoffs.

This team has been searching for its identity all season long -- remember, they threw the ball 47 times when they came to Foxborough earlier this year -- but McGahee might have given them one with one swing of his arm. Ray Rice and McGahee are the best tandem of running backs still playing, and Joe Flacco can make just enough plays to beat you.

If they somehow upset New England -- and I agree it's a big if -- I'm not sure an ice cold Indianapolis Colts team wants any part of Ray Lewis and Co., even at home. Has there ever been a more vulnerable No. 1 seed in the AFC? Pull off that shocker, and waltz into San Diego knowing you already beat them once in their own house. Another playoff gag job by Norv Turner isn't just a possibility, it's destiny.

Six of the Ravens seven losses this year are by an average of 4.3 points. That violent McGahee arm-swing may have served notice to the AFC that the Ravens are done fooling around.

Gasper: Kevin, you want to talk team-flavored Kool-Aid? It was practically invented in Foxborough and the need to pass it out in the locker room is the primary reason that Junior Seau has a "Sports Job" with the Patriots. The Patriots learned the hard way that being flawless is overrated. The last time they played a playoff game they were trying to complete a perfect season. The Disaster in the Desert taught us that maybe having some flaws isn't such a bad thing.

Make no mistake this Patriots team is as flawed as the government bail out plan for the banks. It has a shaky pass rush, inconsistent running game, no third wide receiver (without Welker no No. 2 receiver now), a secondary that can be exploited by elite quarterbacks and an inability to beat good teams on the road. Wait, I'm supposed to be making a case for the Patriots making a run to the Super Bowl? Oh yeah, I forgot.

For all this team lacks though it still has the best coach-quarterback combo in the game in Brady and Belichick, who are 14-3 in playoff play. 

Of the six AFC playoff teams you can make a case that not a single one has a better quarterback or coach than the Patriots, as good, but not better. Plus, none of them has Randy Moss. We've become offensive snobs here in New England after 2007. For all the kvetching about the offense this year they produced 397.3 yards per game, second only to their 2007 record-setting campaign. Stats may be for losers, according to Belichick, but I think this offense isn't.

History says the Patriots are capable of a run. Back in 2006, when Brady's top target was wide-eyed wide receiver Reche Caldwell, the Patriots were not Super Bowl favorites. They beat the Jets at home and then went to San Diego and knocked off the top-seeded Chargers with a little help from Marlon "No, I shouldn't just kneel on this interception" McCree. They had a 21-3 lead in Indianapolis and were one minute away from beating the Colts in their own building. I'd say this Patriots team -- even without Welker -- has more overall talent than that one. I know secretly Belichick is relishing the idea that everyone has counted his team out. BB loves bulletin board material. He has plenty now. The last time people had this little faith in a Patriots playoff run was probably 2001. How did that season end?
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news


...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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