AFC East: 2013 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Ravens at Patriots

January, 13, 2013
Five things to know about the New England Patriots' matchup with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium:

1.Familiar foe: The Patriots and Ravens are almost like division rivals in recent years. These two teams always seem to meet in the regular season or playoffs with a lot on the line. This will be the second meeting this season. Baltimore beat New England, 31-30, in Week 3 in a game with several controversial calls from replacement officials. The Patriots feel they owe the Ravens from that game in this rematch.

2. No Gronkowski: The Patriots must adjust again to life without Rob Gronkowski. The Pro Bowl tight end broke his arm a second time and will be out for the rest of the postseason. New England played five games without Gronkowski and went 4-1 in those games. The Patriots also scored 41 points in the divisional round against the Texans with Gronkowski sidelined for more than three quarters. New England has plenty of offensive weapons, but Gronkowski will be missed most in the red zone.

3. Youngs RBs: The Patriots have two emerging running backs coming of age in the postseason. Second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for four touchdowns in Sunday's victory over the Texans. Ridley led the Patriots with 82 yards rushing, and Vereen showed his versatility with 41 rushing yards and 83 receiving yards. Neither player contributed to last year's playoff run. With Gronkowski out, there will be more opportunities for others to step up.

4. Chasing history: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady set an NFL record with his 17th career postseason victories Sunday. He surpassed his childhood idol Joe Montana. However, Brady is chasing Montana in the most important record for quarterbacks: Super Bowl titles. Brady needs one more Super Bowl title to tie Montana and Terry Bradshaw with four. A win over Baltimore would give Brady his sixth Super Bowl appearance.

5. Cooling off Flacco: New England's defense will face a hot quarterback in Joe Flacco of the Ravens. He outdueled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round and will be looking to topple Brady next week. Flacco has played well against New England in the past two meetings. He nearly upset the Patriots in the AFC title game last year, but had a key pass dropped in the end zone by former Ravens receiver Lee Evans. Flacco also beat the Patriots in their regular-season meeting in Baltimore. Flacco is 0-2 in AFC Championship Games.

Quick Take: Texans at Patriots

January, 5, 2013
Five things to know about Sunday's Houston Texans-New England Patriots playoff game at Gillette Stadium:

1. It's the rematch: The Patriots had their way with the Texans during their first meeting in Week 14. New England scored at will and pounded Houston 42-14. It was a statement game for the Patriots that helped secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage via the head-to-head tiebreaker. New England is 6-2 at home this season and should enter this game confident after the first meeting.

2. Schaub vs. Brady: One of the biggest advantages for the Patriots will be at quarterback. Houston's Matt Schaub could have a tough time matching three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady of the Patriots. Schaub won his first career playoff game Saturday with a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Schaub looked shaky and threw for 262 yards and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown. Schaub must do much better opposite Brady, who has masterfully run an up-tempo offense that leads the NFL in yards and points. Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the first meeting against Houston.

3. Secondary in focus: Schaub will have a chance to be successful against New England's defense. The Patriots are ranked 29th against the pass, although New England's secondary has played better in the second half of the season. A key matchup will be Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib against Houston Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. Talib has the size and athleticism to keep up with Johnson, who must have a big game for Houston to pull off the upset.

4. Containing J.J. Watt: Despite the blowout in Week 14, New England had a lot of trouble with Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt. He had four tackles, three hits on Brady and a forced fumble. The Patriots schemed against Watt and did all they could to keep him from making plays. But Watt still gave the Patriots issues.

5. Patriots are getting healthy: The Patriots should be as healthy as they've been in months. The two weeks off provided time for a lot of key players to get some much-needed rest. Four Patriots starters -- tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm), receiver Wes Welker (ankle), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (hip) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) -- are nursing injuries. New England has a chance to peak at the right time in the playoffs with the team closer to full strength.