With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Baltimore Ravens, for the second consecutive year, travel to Foxborough and Gillette Stadium, to take on Super Bowl favorites, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (6.30pm ET, Sunday).
For the first time in 25 years, the AFC Championship game will feature the same two teams as the year prior. In the 2012 contest, it was New England that bested its opponent, winning 23-20 as Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. This time, the Ravens are hoping for and expecting a different result.
With Cundiff gone as well as a handful of other key personnel, the Ravens actually beat the Patriots by a score of 31-30 in week three of this season. The team rallied from a 13-point deficit incurred early in the game and came back to see QB Joe Flacco outclass Brady with numbers of three touchdowns and 382 total passing yards.
Considering Baltimore’s near miss last year, the team is more than prepared for this match-up with New England with some players even expressing that this is exactly the team they wanted to face. Other than simple vengeance, the Patriots have built a dynasty in the 2000s and there is really no other NFL team that can be considered playoff royalty the way the Patriots are. In fact, in the Tom Brady era, beginning circa 2001, the Patriots are 18-6 in the postseason, including winning three Super Bowl rings in four years, reaching and losing another two Super Bowl games, and only twice losing the first game of the playoffs.
As it turned out however, one of these one and done seasons came in 2009, when Flacco and the Ravens won by a dominating performance ending in a score of 33-14. This was also the first time that New England had lost at home in the postseason under Brady. In the game, Baltimore’s defense, one of the premier squads in the league, picked off Brady three times. Meanwhile, in a game where Flacco was practically non-existent, it was running back Ray Rice that carried the load for the Ravens, scoring two touchdowns on 22 carries for 159 yards.
A lot has changed since this game however. Personnel is very different, with the Patriots boasting one of the most explosive offenses in the league and the Ravens’ defense actually taking a step or two back from where they were just a few years ago. No longer does it look like New England’s dynasty is coming to an end. Rather it is just the opposite. It looks like they are rebuilding and renewing their dynasty. And with Denver out, New England is the overwhelming favorite to win the 2013 Super Bowl.
However considering the way the Ravens have managed to play against the Patriots in the past few years and the emotional high the team is riding with Ray Lewis to retire following the end of the season, it really could be anybody’s game.
Is Joe Flacco a Legitimate Playoff Quarterback?
I’ve already discussed the success of the Patriots and Brady in the postseason so I would be remiss not to mention the impressive playoff record Brady’s competitor has. Flacco, 28, has not only made the playoffs in each of his five years in the league, but he has also won at least one game in each of those years as well. He has been to 11 postseason games, posting a 7-4 record in those contests.
There is one thing however Flacco has never done that Brady has on several occasions. That is win the AFC Championship and play in a Super Bowl game. This year could be his chance.
He may not have as much experience and hardware as Brady, but Flacco has always seemed to come up his biggest when the stage is high and when it is all on the line. Even in the Ravens’ heartbreaking loss to the Patriots last season, Flacco was spectacular, throwing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. Again, despite identical completion/attempts, Flacco outdid Brady, who was picked off twice and threw for only 239 yards.
If what Flacco did against Denver (331 yards, 3 TD) is any indication of what is to come, then the future is very bright for this young man who is slowly becoming a proven veteran in this league. Not to mention, against the Patriots he will face the league’s 29th best or third worst passing defense, yielding over 271 yards per game.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Betting Picks
To many, the Ravens already won the toughest game they were expected to play this postseason and it came last week. Against New England, which will be no easy task, it is therefore not unreasonable to expect that the Ravens might not be as frightened as they could have been.
Add to that the fact that Baltimore beat New England earlier this year, they know they have the talent to beat them and the fact that the team has played some of its best football this year in their two postseason games, the Ravens really do have some sort of an edge.
The Brady offense, flanked with physical wide receivers and a proficient running game won’t be easy to stop. But overall, the New England quarterback has played some of his worst playoff football against the very team he will be facing on Sunday. Plus, Brady will be without arguably his best offensive weapon as tight end Rob Gronkowski re-injured his forearm in the victory last week.
I’m setting the stage for a gigantic Ravens’ upset but at the very least for the team to beat the spread, which favors the Pats by a monstrous eight points. These teams have played close contests almost every head-to-head meeting and don’t expect this game to be any different. It could likely come down to a field goal yet again.