It's tempting to look at the New England Patriots and wonder what they were thinking when they traded all-everything receiver Randy Moss to a team they could -- conceivably -- end up meeting in the Super Bowl.
It's also tempting to look at the trade as a huge break for the Ravens, who travel to Foxborough, Mass., this weekend to meet the Moss-less Pats in another road showdown against an elite AFC title contender.
Given the choice between facing a team with one of the most dynamic receivers in the history of the NFL and facing that same team without him, it is fairly reasonable to rejoice in the latter. The Ravens already have caught a couple of breaks like that -- playing the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger and the Jets without Santonio Holmes -- so why wouldn't you think that the planets will continue to line up perfectly for them?
The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it's too convenient. It may seem obvious that the Patriots are a lesser team without Moss to occupy the attention of the Ravens' secondary Sunday, but maybe that isn't so.
If there is one thing you should know about the Patriots -- other than the fact that the Ravens have never beaten them in the regular season -- it is that they might be the best-coached team in the NFL. There was a reason Bill Belichick didn't want Moss around anymore, and it wasn't just because the Patriots are trying to corner the market in next year's draft.
Moss was becoming a divisive figure in the organization. He complained during training camp that he no longer felt wanted because of his unsettled contract situation and reportedly requested a trade through his agent soon after the Patriots opened the regular season with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
There was even a report recently of an altercation between Moss and quarterback Tom Brady, but it has been denied by Belichick and Brady the past two days.
Still, when a guy like Belichick calls the reasons for the deal "complex and complicated," and couches his explanation of the trade in such a way that leaves every indication that Moss had become a real problem in the locker room, you've got to believe that everyone in the Patriots organization is glad to be rid of him. And, if a coach the caliber of Belichick believes that the Patriots are a better team -- from both a short-term and a long-term perspective -- without a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, then I'm going to take his word for it.
My point here is that the Patriots generally know what they're doing, so there's a chance that they will actually be a more dangerous opponent without Moss. The Ravens beat the Patriots handily at Gillette Stadium in last year's playoffs and held Moss to 48 receiving yards. They won't have to worry about him anymore, but they might have to deal with a higher level of offensive unpredictability from the Patriots and their grouchy game-planning wizard.
The oddsmakers apparently don't believe that Brady will be particularly hamstrung. They've posted the Patriots as 21/2-point favorite to avenge their embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens in January.
What the Ravens have to hope is that the Patriots fall victim to the same new-chemistry issues that undermined the Vikings in Moss' less than triumphant return on "Monday Night Football" against the New York Jets. It was obvious that Brett Favre and the Vikings were totally out of sync until Favre hooked up with Moss on a long touchdown late in the third quarter.
Brady might be thrilled to be reunited with former Patriots go-to guy Deion Branch -- who was just acquired to replace Moss -- but it can take a while to get back on the same page.
One way or the other, the game will be just the latest in a series of big tests for the Ravens, who can make another big statement about their status as a strong Super Bowl contender by improving to 5-1 as they complete the toughest six-game stretch on their schedule.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.