That's because Tom Brady and the New England offense will have a familiar foe waiting for them — the Baltimore Ravens. While the Patriots have controlled the series with the Ravens (6-0 in the regular season, 0-1 in the playoffs), the veteran-laden Baltimore defense should provide a stiffer test than Denver's unit did Saturday on its way to surrendering 45 points.
That's because the Ravens' defense, while it may not be the unit it was a few years back, still offers a handful of playmakers.
If you work from the defensive line back, you have to start with Haloti Ngata. The 330-pound defensive lineman is a disruptive force up front, as evidenced by another impressive season anchoring the Ravens' D-line. He chipped in five sacks and a pair of forced fumbles this season, but his greatest impact anchoring the line isn't really evidenced by stats.
From there, the Baltimore linebacking corps is one of the best-known in all of football. Ray Lewis, one of the greatest ever to play the position, isn't what he once was. However, he still has playmaking capabilities, and can make life miserable for opposing offenses. Terrell Suggs, on the other hand, is one of the best defenders in the game right now. He'll likely garner consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, and it's well-earned. He was in on 70 tackles this season, and he established a new career high in sacks with 14.
Finally, there's ball hawk Ed Reed in the secondary. If the Ravens are going to have any hopes of slowing down a well-oiled Patriots offensive machine, the All-Pro safety will have to have a good day. He proved on Sunday against Houston that he can still make big plays when needed, as he came up with a big interception of T.J. Yates late in the Ravens' win, and he was also in the middle of things when the Baltimore secondary was able to break up a desperation heave on Houston's last offensive play. On that same play, Reed appeared to injure his ankle, but X-rays came back negative. While it's something that may not play a big role in limiting his effectiveness, it will be worth keeping an eye on.
Add it all up and you've got what was the third-best defense in the NFL this year. Which one of these individual playmakers, however, should concern the Patriots the most?