Danger ahead if playoff sleigh ride lands in New England

RAVEN INSIDER

December 26, 2008|By Mike Preston

If there is such a thing as Santa Claus, then the Ravens had better hope he delivers them the perfect late gift Sunday night. That present would be a first-round playoff game against anyone but the New England Patriots.

Of course, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here, because the Ravens haven't beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars yet to earn a playoff berth. But that's a formality.

In those famous words of a song written by the late James Brown, "Please, Please, Please," don't bring on the Patriots.

The New York Jets would do just fine in the opening round, and so would the Miami Dolphins. But no one, absolutely no one, wants to go to Foxborough, Mass., for any playoff game, much less in the first round.

The Ravens will say they don't care, and they certainly won't back down. In fact, they might welcome the challenge. But upstairs at the Castle in Owings Mills where upper management resides, they all know better.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would rather have the flu than face his former boss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He is the last guy you want to pick a fight with in the postseason.

Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh knows Belichick well, too. In fact, Harbaugh used to hang out in the annual Belichick posse at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., along with New England vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and Denver Broncos special teams coach Scott O'Brien.

A couple of scenarios have to be played out Sunday before the playoff schedule is determined, but if the Ravens make it, oh no, no, not the Patriots.

Belichick already has the personality of Scrooge nine months a year, but he becomes downright diabolical in December, January and February.

He's in his ninth season as Patriots head coach and has appeared in four of the past seven Super Bowls, winning three. Belichick owns the second-best postseason record in NFL history (15-4) and is the winningest head coach since 2001.

In New England this season, Belichick has done for quarterback Matt Cassel what the Ravens have done for rookie Joe Flacco. Imagine, though, what Belichick, one of the best defensive minds in the game, could do to Flacco.

It might not be pretty.

As good as Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan have been this season, Belichick can match them move for move. He certainly has a better track record.

Besides, who wants to play in the arctic conditions at Gillette Stadium? Nearly a week ago, the Arizona Cardinals were buried alive by more than snowdrifts as the Patriots won in Foxborough, 47-7. Some say the Cardinals never got off the bus.

Meanwhile, Patriots veterans like Matt Light, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Wes Welker and Randy Moss were laughing because they were used to these conditions.

The Ravens should hope to avoid Miami, too.

The Dolphins would be an easier opponent than the Patriots, but it's tough beating a team twice at home in the same year. Also, Miami is playing well, and quarterback Chad Pennington is hot.

The Dolphins also would have plenty of motivation. Not only did the Ravens beat them earlier this year, but they also would get to revisit the story line of Cameron, their head coach a season ago.

In the playoffs, you like to take the easy way out in the first game, and for the Ravens, that would be the Jets. Unlike most of the other potential playoff teams, New York hasn't found its rhythm.

One week it is hot, and the next it isn't. Like the Green Bay Packers, the Jets haven't found a way to slow quarterback Brett Favre. His strength is still his weakness. He can't help but throw the ball all over the place, but sometimes it's to the other team.

Favre really doesn't give a damn. He doesn't have a conscience. I can see the Ravens smothering him and sending Favre out the same way they sent out the Cowboys last week.

The Jets don't have a great coach or any extra motivation. Only a week ago, they lost to the Seattle Seahawks (4-11). If the road to the Super Bowl goes through Miami, New York or New England, take the one of least resistance, and that's New York.

That could lead to the semifinals in Nashville, Tenn.

Listen to Mike Preston every Monday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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