Like a hot knife through butter. That's how New England Patriots' QB Tom Brady sliced through the Denver Broncos' pass defense.
Cut to this Sunday. Brady is set to do more slicing. But this time he's facing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Broncos were soft butter. The Ravens aren't.
The Broncos were finished in the first quarter. For one thing, they were playing scared, unquestionably intimidated by Brady and just ripe to be overwhelmed. The Broncos shouldn't have advanced that far and deep down they knew it. Aided by home-field advantage and an uncharacteristically sharp passing game by Tim Tebow, the Broncos sneaked by the Pittsburgh Steelers, a much better team. Hitting the winning TD in overtime, Tebow threw a perfect slant pass, outfoxing a defense set for the run. That sent the over-achieving Broncos to Foxboro for the brutal, 45-10 beatdown by the Patriots.
The feeble competition made the Patriots look much better than they are. Brady will have a tougher time taming this gritty Baltimore unit. Against the Broncos, he was calmly standing behind his line, in a comfort zone, in no danger from Denver pass rushers, waiting for receivers to get open. That's not going to happen this time. This isn't the lockdown Ravens defense of years ago but it boasts impressive stats, including being third in the league in yards allowed and fourth against the pass. Its killer pass rush and skilled secondary should make life miserable for Brady.
On the plus side for the Ravens, they conquered a top-notch Houston defense last week. The Patriots defense, second worst in the league, giving up 411.1 yards per game, will be much easier to penetrate. QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice should do significant damage against this shoddy unit.
Partly based on how badly they trashed the Broncos, the Patriots are a 7-point favorite. Oddsmakers admit that the line, due to the Denver win, is artificially inflated. A three-or-four point spread is more realistic. The line also reflects the perception that Brady, with a home-field boost, will outduel overmatched Flacco.
Look for the Ravens' defense to curtail Brady and make it a close game. If you're betting, remember the line is inflated and take the Ravens. An upset win wouldn't be a surprise.