Unlike previous years, there is no longer a mystique about playing New England in Foxborough, Mass., but the biggest concern is that Patriots coach Bill Belichick has had two weeks to prepare for the Ravens.
Belichick is the best head coach in the NFL, possibly the best in league history. Besides the technical skill, he is a shrewd, calculating individual who can always find a way to beat the opposition.
Can't you see him locking himself in his laboratory like a mad scientist searching for a way to knock off the Ravens (4-1)? The Patriots (3-1) don't have the talent of previous years, but that's when guys like Belichick are the most dangerous.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots can stop the Ravens running game. A year ago, the Ravens tortured New England's run defense as running back Ray Rice ran 22 times for 159 yards in the playoffs. The Patriots are giving up more big yards in 2010 allowing an average of 384.5 (112.2 rushing) and 24 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Ravens rushed for 233 yards in a 31-17 win against Denver Sunday, finally unleashing a punishing running game. The Ravens' game plan certainly won't change much, but the Patriots have to find a way to stop it.
"It will be great heading up there," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We went up there twice last year. They have been playing pretty good, and we feel that we have, too."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said: "Now we have an opportunity next week to go up to New England and play the team we're playing — a team we're going to have to deal with throughout the course of the season. It's an opportunity to do some good things up there."
Ravens closing the gap?
Those three teams are built so much alike that it's scary. The bottom line is that it appears the winner will be the team with the quarterback who can make the most plays, and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is better than the Ravens' Joe Flacco and New York's Mark Sanchez.
The great equalizer is that the Ravens have a better receiving corps than the other two teams, and that helps Flacco close the gap on Roethlisberger significantly.
You can't do a thing about it
Besides that one moment of lunacy when the Ravens thought about throwing the ball to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on a fourth-and-1 at the goal line in the first quarter, Cam Cameron and the offense stayed in rhythm against the Broncos.
The Ravens went to a spread look, and actually called a quarterback draw with Flacco in the first quarter. When Flacco became erratic late in the second quarter and into the third, Cameron pulled the plug on passing and went to the running game.
At one point, Rice touched the ball nine straight times on an 11- play drive that lasted 6:44. There is possibly nothing more demoralizing in pro sports than when your opponent runs the ball, you know they're going to run it, and you can't do a thing to stop it.
Pressure and perspective
Before everyone gets alarmed about the lack of pressure from the Ravens' front four, remember there were a lot of times when the Ravens were in a prevent defense and it was four against five in favor of Denver.
We would all like to see a little more pressure, but let's keep it in perspective.
Too much risk
The Ravens rolled the dice with Ngata Sunday as a tight end-fullback and were fortunate that he came away without an injury.
Don't tempt fate twice. If you need a big, lead blocker, move rookie Terrence Cody to that position. No use putting the best defensive player on the team, maybe in the league, at risk again.
Put chatter in check
Maybe wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is going through some growing pains.
As a former No. 1 receiver, it's understandable that he is complaining about not getting enough passes thrown to him. Hopefully, this will end as the Ravens' passing game develops and Flacco becomes more familiar with his receivers. I like Houshmandzadeh, his toughness and what he brings to the table, but the squawking has to go.
Derrick Mason can complain because he has been here for years and has carried the passing offense for a couple of seasons. He's entitled to whine a little, but the Ravens hold the trump card with Houshmandzadeh.
They should remind him that they are only paying him the minimum contract for a veteran and that if he continues to complain, they'll cut him once Donte' Stallworth returns.
That ought to quiet Houshmandzadeh's chatter.
Mason got it right
The Ravens were pelted with questions about being an elite team after the game Sunday, and Mason had the best answer.
"As long as we stay healthy, we have as good a shot as anybody," Mason said. "We have a very good team. We have a disciplined team, a team that regardless of the situation, it's going to fight. I think when you have a team that's going to fight, it bodes well for you in the end."
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM.
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