Three quick thoughts while watching Ed Reed run like he's seriously favoring his ankle in warmups. Hmmm. Probably just gamesmanship, right? . . .
1. Patriots have to negate Ngata: It's a tired angle at this point, but it's also the truth. If the Ravens are going to slow the Patriots' prolific passing game, they need to get pressure on Tom Brady and make him uncomfortable. The Patriots quarterback struggles (by his standards) when he faces heavy pressure in the middle and the offense's Swiss-watch timing is thrown off. Ngata, a mountain of a tackle at 6 feet 4 inches and 350 pounds, has been All-Pro the past four seasons. The Patriots' interior line cannot allow him to be disruptive today.
2. Joe Flacco isn't that bad. Sure, the Ravens might be wise to try to convince Patriots honorary captain Drew Bledsoe to put on Flacco's jersey and maybe take a few shots downfield. But Flacco, who threw for 3,610 yards this season (12th in the NFL), and was the 18th-rated passer in the league, is mediocre. And that's better than a lot of the passers -- Tyler Palco, Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky, Tim Tebow -- the Patriots have faced during their nine-game winning streak. The Patriots defense has improved, but the level of improvement has been tough to gauge because of the opponent. Look for Flacco to take a shot or two deep with Torrey Smith, and then we'll have some answers.
3. The Ravens won't be able to contain Rob Gronkowski: Because we're sticking with this one until it proves false, and we don't expect that to be anytime soon, that's why. Put Gronk down for 8/115/2, with at least one one-on-one embarrassment of Ray Lewis.
Prediction: During the week of the 10-year anniversary of the Snow Bowl, maybe it's appropriate that Stephen Gostkowski wins today's game with his foot. But I don't think it will quite come to that. Instead of a Vinatieri-style winner through the snow, he ices it with a late field goal, and the Patriots head to their fifth Super Bowl of the Brady/Belichick Era with a 27-17 win.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.