AFC Championship Preview: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

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The experts had this matchup open up as a double digit victory for the Patriots and all of sudden it is coming down a bit and there should be no reason why Baltimore cannot give this squad all they can handle.

The Ravens had them beat fair and square last season in the AFC Championship, but Lee Evans was one of the sickest men on the planet to drop that wide open pass in the end zone. Everybody should know the rest as Billy Cundiff then missed a an easy, chip shot free kick.

The Pats and Ravens have met nine times in the franchises histories, with New England winning seven of them. This will be the third meeting in the playoffs going back to just 2010, which was when Baltimore put down a beatdown on Wild Card Weekend. New England made up for it last year by winning a game they really did not have a ton of business winning.

Joe Flacco has played tremendous as he has shockingly played magnificent in his last four postseason games going back to last year. While his 13-8 TD/INT ratio in his career of the postseason isn’t great, he has found ways to win (7-4 career record in playoffs).

The deep ball and ability to take the top of a defense has been realistic and the likes of Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin have given fits to opposing defensive backs. Just ask the Broncos and while they will feel like they let the Ravens off the hook, Baltimore has had the speed to burn opponents deep.

The New England pass defense is not filled with stars, but it always is helpful to have a double digit lead in the second half and that guy Brady always leads to more motivation and better execution.

Simply stated, the Patriots offense is unstoppable right now and it does not matter if Rob Gronkowski plays in the postseason or not. This offense is borderline unstoppable to slow down thanks to the nasty trio of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd.

Shane Vereen became the x-factor with his ridiculous performance of 3 TD, and running back Stevan Ridley has been a constant workhorse all year long.

Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are a ferocious group of defenders up front, but the Patriots offensive line has improved so much from a year ago. New England struggled to run the ball last year and it showed against the Ravens and Giants, whereas this season it has hardly been an issue.

Ridley has caught America’s attention and the combo of Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen has often been deadly when given the opportunity to succeed.

Tom Brady has the most wins ever in NFL postseason history (17-6), and his 41-20 TD/INT ratio is quite glaring. The Ravens do not have the studs to hang pass for pass in the secondary, so expect them to bring the house early and often.

That is where Brady will find Vereen, Ridley and perhaps Woodhead (if healthy) since Baltimore will have to bring an extra man to offset the timing in the passing game and their aggressive corners will likely not get away with bump coverage that often turns into holding.

Wes Welker was called out by Houston’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on how he is not a receiver that comes across as a scary option and boy did Phillips once again look silly.

The only receiver in NFL history to post six seasons of 100-plus catches went off for 131 yards on eight receptions. Throw in the yard after the catch ability from Hernandez and this offense is capable of putting up 30-plus on Baltimore this weekend.

The most realistic shot of that number getting below 30 would be for Ray Rice to tote the rock 25-plus and for Vonta Leach to block like the bulldozer that he is. Flacco of course then has to land hay-makers left and right to put some pressure on Brady (that sounds like a dumb statement, what pressure?).

Anquan Boldin is a 6’1, 230-pound tight end running routes as a wide receiver for the Ravens and the likes of Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty will have to stay alert in the secondary of New England.

This AFC title will have a back-and-forth contest once again but the Patriots offense will not allow Ray Lewis to head off  in the sunset. One of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game has already given back so much to the league, and this tough loss will not defy his career by any means.

Tom Brady and this squad is simply on a mission and they will not come up short having the home field advantage.

Network: CBS

Time: 6:30 p.m. Eastern

Experts Pick: NE by 8

Danny V’s Pick: Patriots 38, Ravens 31

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