Wildcard Weekend the AFC bit (part 2)

Continuing the Premier League analogies, if Houston and Buffalo are the North London derby then New England and Tennessee are Manchester United and West Ham, the away team have a coach with a tenuous link to their more storied rivals both teams should be better than they currently are and home advantage should be huge in deciding the result of the game.

In terms of recent form both teams have won 3 of their last 5 games which signifies a huge improvement for the Titans who only won 2 games in the first 6 weeks of the season, this change is largely down to Ryan Tannehill taking over from Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry’s traditional late season heroics. Henry has wracked up 896 yards and 10 touchdowns since week 10 and he didn’t even play in week 16! Unfortunately for the Titans best hope of progressing in the playoffs the Patriots Defence has only allowed 7 rushing TD’s all season and 3 of those were scored by the Lamar Jackson lead Ravens in week 9. Since their chastening at the hands of the most explosive Offence in the NFL they’ve conceded on average fewer than 91 yards on the ground per game and just 2 rushing TD’s!

For their part the Titans Defence has managed generate some pass rush lately which will be a concern for the Patriots who have really struggled, 15 of the Titans 39 sacks have come since week 11 so don’t expect a shoot-out. Luckily for the Patriots their Defence has notched up a league leading 21 turnovers 15 more than the Titans have made. If you were looking for a shred of hope for the Titans to cling to it would have to be that the Patriots are missing Stephen Gostkowski and Nick Folk had missed 3 field goals between the 40 and 50 yards out so far this season (but bizarrely he’s 1/1 from 50+ yards). The Titans could also look to the fact that they’ve won their last 3 road games and 5 games away this season but none of the Colts, Raiders or the Texans reserves provided the sort of challenge that the Patriots in a soggy Foxborough will.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be a close game and I would be surprised if there are a lot of points and excitement involved. When there’s a very decent chance that there will be a few fumbles and a lot of turnovers it’s impossible not lean toward the team with 21 takeaways this season by a field goal.

2019 NFL Playoffs, Divisional round – Game 3 Charger @ Patriots

“Mental disintegration” was a phrase attributed to Steve Waugh when the Australian cricket team used to regularly thrash England way back in the 1990’s but it could just as easily be applied to the Ravens display against the Chargers last week. A combination of Lamar Jackson failing to rise to the occasion in his first NFL playoff game and the Ravens coaching staff failure to adapt the teams approach to help Jackson saw the rookie Quarterback sacked 7 times and fumble the ball 4 times whilst throwing an interception.

The Chargers Defence on the other hand completely schooled the Ravens playing personnel and coaching staff by totally changing their approach to an Offence that had beaten them by 12 points just 2 weeks earlier. They contained the Ravens dynamic Quarterback by playing 7 Defensive back’s instead of 4 and 3 Linebackers. This week they face a completely different threat from Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, he is definitely not dynamic and usually defeats opposing Defences with his brain so how the Chargers adapt to completely new challenge will be interesting.

The Patriots haven’t lost a home game all season and the Chargers haven’t lost a game outside Los Angeles all season either so they won’t mind having to travel, but at some stage all that travel must catch up with a team who have flown nearly 5,660 miles in the last week. Tom Brady hasn’t lost a Playoff game in Foxborough since the Ravens beat him in 2012 and Phillip Rivers hasn’t beaten a Tom Brady lead Patriots team ever! But if the last week proved anything it’s that the Chargers have a coaching team that doesn’t mind thinking out of the box and if their Defence can keep causing turnovers they’ll have a chance to make history. The one area that the Chargers will need to improve from last week is turning their turnovers into Touchdowns instead of Field Goals but the Patriots Defence is not the Ravens Defence so they should not find it as difficult to punch the ball in if they get the chance.

Personally I think this is the end of the Chargers run, so far this week the bye week teams have proven that rest is crucial at this stage of the season. Both the Chiefs and Rams could muster some extra physicality that their opponents couldn’t match. It should be a close game though, the Patriots scored just 8 more points than the Chargers during the regular season and the Chargers conceded 6 points fewer over those 6 games

AFC Divisional game 1 Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

Something strange happens when the Ravens meet the Patriots in Foxboro, especially during the playoffs. During the regular season the Patriots have a 7-1 win – loss record, when they play in the postseason however the Ravens have a better record, leading 2-1, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has only win 3 times against the Patriots but all of these wins have come in Foxboro.
Given last week’s Wildcard games there’s bound to be a few strange things occurring this week too, whether it was officials changing their minds, coaches refusing to replace players who were clearly not good enough or defenders recovering fumbles only to then fumble themselves there’s bound to be some inexplicable goings-on this weekend too. Last weekend was like the NFL’s version of the “Twilight Zone” though, so let’s hope there are not as many mystifying happenings this week.
On the face of it this looks like a pretty even matchup with the Patriots scoring an average of 30 points a game and the Ravens themselves averaging 26 points per game during the regular season. Statistically the Patriots have had a fairly modest season only making the top 10 in 2 major categories; they stood 9th in the NFL for passing yards and rushing defence during the regular season. The Ravens on the other hand were the 4th best rushing defence during the regular season and their rushing offence was 8th. So the numbers would suggest that the Ravens have been the more impressive team but 1 look at the overall League standings show that the Patriots 12-4 record and their 4-2 divisional record saw them ranked number 1, a full 9 places above the Ravens and that’s the only category that hints at character and resolve.
The Patriots attack against the Ravens struggling pass defence is going to be the important part of this game and more pertinently the Ravens ability to stop Gronkowski. The Patriots Tight End is their leading receiver on the year as he recorded the 15th highest number of yards in the NFL and his 12 touchdown receptions is the third highest number this season. Unlike their rushing defence the Ravens pass defence hasn’t been great this season and 3979 yards they’ve allowed sees them ranked 23rd and their 11 interceptions is the 4th fewest number in the league. They have allowed few touchdowns through the air though and are ranked joint 6th after giving up just 22 during the regular season, pass rush has been the most successful part of their defence this season and with 49 sacks just 1 team has recorded more.

The Patriots have been very effective at converting 3rd and 4th downs this season, with a combined success rate of 49.05% and one of the keys to the Ravens defeat of the Steelers last weekend was their ability to restrict them to field goals instead of touchdowns if they can repeat this feat in Foxboro they may well progress to the AFC Championship game.
I expect the Patriots will win because Tom Brady is the consummate professional when it comes to finding ways to advance in the playoffs but the Ravens have 10 road wins in the playoffs which is tied with the Patriots for the most in the NFL and if they generate enough pass rush to fluster Brady then a repeat of one of last weekend’s shocking events could be on the cards.