Next up for the Patriots: Baltimore. The Ravens capitalized on a first-quarter special teams gaffe by the Texans and survived a brilliant effort by Houston's defense to advance to next Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens are lucky to be alive. And the Patriots offense is going to face its stiffest test of the year (though it might have been even more daunting if Houston won). Check the missteps and bad breaks by Houston. A first-quarter punt muff by Jacoby Jones inside his 10 led to a touchdown. It was a 2-yard drive. The Ravens' next drive ended with a field goal and the first T.J. Yates interception led to the final Ravens score of the first quarter and a 17-3 lead. In the fourth, Yates was picked off twice. The final Yates interception came on a throw to the end zone with 1:51 left that Ed Reed came down with. The would-be game-tying throw was Yates' third pick. The Texans also had a Billy Cundiff field goal hit the crossbarAll that was enough for Baltimore to survive the Texans defense which sacked Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 75 yards on 19 carries to Ricky Williams and Ray Rice. Flacco was 14-for-27 for 176 yards. The Ravens offensive line looked terrible, getting collapsed regularly. And Flacco looked like a guy trying to will himself invisible when the pressure swirled. Didn't work. New England can't bring that kind of heat. And the Ravens' downfield threats -- especially the underrated Anquan Boldin (4 catches and 73 yards) -- are more potent and stand a better chance of testing them than the Broncos could have. Still, the Ravens offense is not terrifying. Not by a long shot. And New England has its best performance of the season to build upon. What was more alarming for the Ravens -- and encouraging for the Patriots -- was the permissiveness of their defense. Inaccurate as Yates was, he found receivers all over the yard running fairly free. And Arian Foster absolutely feasted on the ground running behind the Texans line which just overpowered the Ravens front-seven. Foster carried 27 times for 132 yards. Andre Johnson had 111 yards receiving on eight catches. The Ravens didn't get a sack of Yates. Terrell Suggs was quiet as a church mouse. And Ed Reed appeared to get injured on the final Houston play of the game. We'll watch those this week. So, in short, Baltimore won against a team that threw it to them three times and handed them the ball on the 2-yard line. And they still won by just a touchdown. At home. Underwhelming win. But can the Patriots make the Ravens look as bad offensively as they did against Houston? We'll certainly be discussing it over the next couple of days.
Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.
COMPARING THE 2007 AND 2017 PATRIOTS
The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.
Today's topic: Why is Jimmy Garoppolo still here?
Scout 1 (AFC) -- "He's Bill Belichick. He doesn't give a [damn] about what you, or me or anyone else thinks. I know teams called about Garoppolo. I don't believe they were ever given a realistic price. Why? To me, the answer is simple: Bill thinks he's got the next great one. I watched his snaps. I think he can be that. [Garoppolo] has a great base, and his mechanics are close enough to [Brady] that you appreciate his willingness to learn and the coaching he's gotten there."
Scout 2 (AFC) -- "I absolutely loved the kid coming out of college. When we interviewed him, [it was obvious] he's got those qualities you want in a QB, as a leader. I begged our guys to take him at the end of the first round. That's how good I thought he was then. He's a hell of a lot better now. The job Bill and [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] have done with him, the work he clearly has put in, wrap all that up and it makes all the sense in the world to keep him. They can win with him. That's all you need to know -- in my opinion -- as to why they kept him. The moment that Brady guy starts to show cracks, the next guy is in already there, already knows the locker room, the system, the environment. I think it's genius."
Former Pats player -- "I played against him every day in practice. He's all that." Why? "He can make all the throws. He can process all the information. He is a gamer. He can slow it down. He can spin it. I'm going tell you this, if he had gotten traded to Cleveland, they're a borderline playoff team. I really believe that."
Scout 3 (NFC) -- "I know teams called and got nowhere. Easy conclusion is they see Garoppolo as the next QB. But I think it could be as simple as the value there. He's the player one snap away. Weigh that against the third guy (Jacoby Brissett) or some vet and maybe it was just too wide a gap to risk it. Keep him. See how the year plays out and then decide, do we want to franchise him? Ink him to some kind of bridge deal? Or let him go off into free agency?"
Front Office (AFC) -- "Bill knows something we don't. That's the way I read it. Whether it's Brady's future, or what they didn't see in Brissett, or something about the makeup of Garoppolo, he just couldn't part company with him. I can't say as I blame him. Finding one good QB in this league is hard enough. Two? Maybe only a handful of teams in the league can say they have that. Plus, with Bill, he's not worried about coaching for his job. He can think big picture -- two, three, four years down the line. That's not something too many other coaches/front offices in this environment get. He can afford to pass on a handful of draft picks to keep a player he really likes."
The '17 Pats look loaded . . . but how do they compare to the '07 Pats, who nearly went undefeated? Phil Perry continues his series examining the two.