BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-6)
at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-3)
AFC Championship Game
Kickoff: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EDT
Line: New England -9, Total: 51.5
In a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game, the Ravens will look to exact revenge on the Patriots on Sunday night.
In last year’s title game, Baltimore came within a dropped TD of a victory and a missed short field goal of forcing OT at New England. Lee Evans dropped this pass in the end zone with just 27 seconds left in regulation and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal two plays later in the 23-20 defeat. Baltimore hasn't been as good defensively this year, allowing 400-plus yards six times this season and 398 yards in last week's amazing 38-35 overtime win in Denver. New England hung 41 points and 457 yards on Houston last week, but will continue to be without TE Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm). Even with last week’s victory, the Patriots are only 2-5 ATS in their past seven home playoff games, and they lost SU to Baltimore in the Wild Card round three years ago in a 33-14 rout. These clubs also met in Week 3 of this regular season, a game the Ravens won 31-30 on a last-second field goal.
Can the Ravens keep this game close with the possibility of a huge upset? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL playoff game. So far during the postseason, the experts are a collective 11-3 ATS (79%), with Brian 4-0, Scott 2-0 and Gary 2-0.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been outstanding in the two playoff wins this year, completing 30-of-57 passes for 613 yards (10.8 YPA, 20.4 YPC), 5 TD and 0 INT. Great offensive line play has certainly helped, as Flacco has absorbed only two sacks combined in the two games. He has also been outstanding in his past three meetings with New England -- all since 2010 -- with 973 passing yards (324 YPG), 7 TD and 2 INT. WR Torrey Smith was heroic in the Week 3 victory, catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns less than 24 hours after his 19-year-old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith also caught two TD passes in last week's win, finishing with 98 yards on just three catches. While Smith provides the deep routes, Anquan Boldin works in the middle of the field, catching 11 passes for 216 yards (19.6 yards per catch) this postseason. TE Dennis Pitta is also a threat to the Patriots weak passing defense (271 passing YPG allowed, 4th-most in NFL) with five catches and a TD in each of the two meetings with the Patriots in the 2012 calendar year. But the Ravens are far from just a passing offense, as they rank 11th in the NFL in rushing yards (119 YPG) thanks to RB Ray Rice, who has destroyed New England in his career. In five meetings against the Pats, he has 665 total yards (133 YPG) with three touchdowns. He rushed for 159 yards and two scores in the playoff win in Foxboro in 2010, and is coming off a 131-yard effort (4.4 YPC) in the victory in Denver. Baltimore committed just 16 turnovers during the regular season (tied for 2nd-fewest in NFL), including only four giveaways in its past six road games combined. But the Patriots had 41 forced turnovers during the regular season (2nd-most in NFL), racking up at least two takeaways in 13 of 17 games this season.
New England led the NFL in both scoring (34.8 PPG) and total offense (428 YPG) during the regular season, and started off the postseason with 41 points and 457 total yards versus Houston. But in the past three home meetings with Baltimore, the Patriots have just 20.0 PPG on 307 total YPG. Tom Brady has a subpar 7 TD and 8 INT in seven career games versus the Ravens, but he played very well in Baltimore in Week 3, completing 28-of-41 passes (68.3%) for 335 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT. Brady has put up huge numbers in his 23 career playoff games (63% completions, 5,629 passing yards, 41 TD, 20 INT), but his worst two postseason passer ratings have both come versus this Ravens defense (49.1 in 2010, 57.5 last year). Although Brady won't have the services of injured TE Rob Gronkowski, several of the team's talented receivers stepped up in his absence last week. WR Wes Welker gained 131 yards (120 in the first half), while TE Aaron Hernandez added 85 and RB Shane Vereen chipped in with 83 receiving yards and two scores. Vereen also rushed for 41 yards on seven carries (5.9 YPC), while top RB Stevan Ridley gained 82 yards and another TD on 15 attempts (5.5 YPC) and a touchdown. This duo will try to establish a running game that has been missing in this series, as New England has averaged just 89.8 rushing YPG on 3.2 YPC in the past five games versus Baltimore. Although the Ravens defensive ranks this season were below average (20th in rushing, 17th in passing), it has allowed just 298 total YPG in the past four games. A huge reason for New England's offensive success it its lack of turnovers (16, tied for 2nd-fewest in NFL), and Baltimore has managed just five takeaways in the past five games combined. However, all five forced turnovers have come in the past two games since LB Ray Lewis returned to the field. In these two playoff wins, Lewis has 30 combined tackles (19 solo, 11 assist). Ravens CB Corey Graham was the big playmaker last week with two interceptions of Peyton Manning, returning one for a touchdown.