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Two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady vs. Super Bowl XXV MVP Ray Lewis.
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
“I think it’s going down to the fourth quarter, and will be a great game to watch,” wrote Tedy Bruschi.
Even though the Patriots are the overwhelming predicted victors (see picks below), there are plenty of reasons to believe the Ravens will come out on top.
Here are four:
The Patriots haven’t been tested like the Ravens will test them. New England has not beaten a team that finished the season with a winning record. They only have two wins against a playoff team – both against the Broncos. Baltimore is 7-0 against playoff teams.
“Tom Brady was right when he said this week that this is the best team they’ve faced all year,” wrote Tedy Bruschi. “Defensively, this is a group that can possibly slow things down against the Patriots. It’s not going to be anything like the Broncos game we saw last week. This is a team that is playoff seasoned, with players who have been there before. This is totally different.
“I look at the Ravens as the bully on the block. They want to come in and take your manhood, and they know that if they are going to get where they want to go, they’ll have to do that to the Patriots. Earlier this year, we mentioned these teams were on a collision course. Well, here’s your collision.”
Terrell Suggs has it in him to slow the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez changed NFL history this season by combining for 169 receptions — the most ever by a pair of tight ends in the same season. The key to slowing the duo down is the Ravens’ sack leader. Sizzle says he understands he has a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lardarius Webb can contain Wes Welker. Welker led the NFL in catches (122) and was second in receiving yards (1,569) during the regular season. The Ravens didn’t have to worry about that kind of production in the 2009 wild-card playoff win because Welker was out with injury. But Lardarius Webb wasn’t a big-impact player back then either. And he is now.
“[Webb] really had what some people think is a Pro Bowl season,” said ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “He stepped up in the playoff game last week against Houston. He made two interceptions, [and] became only the third Ravens player to have two interceptions in a playoff game. So I understand that Wes Welker is going to be playing in this game, but I think the Patriots know that the Ravens are also going to have a guy named Lardarius Webb.”
Ray Rice and Joe Flacco can keep Brady off the field. The best defense against the prolific Patriots offense will be to make Brady a spectator from the sideline. Nobody knows that better than Steelers receiver Hines Ward, who said that was the key for his team to beat New England in the regular season.
“When we played them this year, we had some success against them,” Ward said on the NFL Network. “So offensively, we went to a more spread attack and used a short passing game to use up the time of possession and keep their offense off the field. … And [the Ravens] have the ability to run the ball. If you run the ball, you keep the time of possession, you keep Tom Brady off the field.”
Add Bruschi: “In the running game, the matchup of Rice versus Brandon Spikes is something to look for because Spikes is the main run-stopper. Spikes is that ‘mike’ linebacker and they send him into the line of scrimmage to wreak havoc. The Ravens are going to feed it to Rice and the Patriots are going to have to prove they can stop it.”
Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship Picks
Well it looks like local media are bigger believers in Baltimore than national media.
Five out of seven Baltimore Sun analysts picked the Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl.
But the national media doesn’t have the same faith. Twenty out of 23 say the Patriots will come out on top.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has been dubbed by some to be a “game manger.”
Should that be considered a compliment or a slight?
There’s nobody more qualified to explain whether the label is derogatory than former Ravens Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer.
Dilfer has been dubbed by some as the ultimate game manager, and he says the term is two-fold. Only one is meant to be demeaning.
“I always looked at it two ways: I looked at management of the game as part of not digging your team a hole, and I don’t think that part is derogatory,” Dilfer told reporters on a national conference call. ”I think every quarterback, whether he’s a Hall of Famer or other, the biggest part of his job one of the biggest parts of his job is not to dig his team a hole, not to put them in a negative situation, to make decisions that help you move the chains or help you score points, not help the other team obviously.
“I think the part where it’s become derogatory is when a hole is dug, whether it’s by yourself or by your team, you’re viewed as somebody that can’t get out of it, that you can’t put the team on your shoulders and get out of it. And I’m the first to admit that in my stint in Baltimore, I was the first part. I didn’t dig my team a hole very often, so that part was good. But I also didn’t have many opportunities to have to dig our team out of a hole. So I didn’t get the part of it where you’re playing beyond the Xs and Os so to speak, where you do the heroic thing and put the team on your shoulders and get them out of bad situations.”
Dilfer said he thinks Flacco is a better quarterback right now than he was during the 2000 championship season. He said the fourth-year veteran proved he can dig the Ravens out of a hole and put the offense on his shoulders in Pittsburgh, when he led his team to a come-from-behind victory at the end of the fourth quarter in Week 9.
“So I think he’s shown the ability to do a little bit more than manage the game,” Dilfer concluded.
Dickson, Pitta Say They Can Be As Effective As Pats TEs
Gronkowski and Hernandez have been the spark in an offense that set league records.
And while Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta applauded the Pats duo for their accomplishments, they feel they can be similarly effective Sunday.
“I think with the talent here, we can do the same things or even better than what they’re doing right now,” Dickson told The Baltimore Sun. “They’re doing exactly what their team asks them to do, and [same] here with us. We’re both winning games, and it’s going to come down to these matchups in the game. Tight ends are going to make plays in this game. Our defense has to stop their tight ends, and [their defense has] to try to stop us.”
Pitta and Dickson’s 94 catches in the regular season don’t compare to Hernandez and Gronkowski’s 169 receptions, but that’s partly because the Ravens rely more heavily on Rice and the running game.
Rice rushed for 1,364 yards this season while New England’s top rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis, only gained 667.
“We’re a little bit of a different team down here,” Pitta said. “We don’t drop back and throw the ball nearly as many times. We’re focused on getting the ball to our running backs a lot of times. So I don’t know if the numbers, if you stacked them up against those guys’, are really going to tell the truth about a lot of things.”
Maryland executives and Governor Martin O’Malley make Ravens-Patriots predictions. [Baltimore Business Journal]
This hand-made Ravens birdie head electric guitar was made by a fan, who presented it as a gift to the Marching Ravens. Check out the presentation and listen to the band play that bad boy. [YouTube]
Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc. picked center Matt Birk and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson as the two underrated Ravens that could make a big difference Sunday. [ESPN]
Matt Light, who Bruschi thinks will have a hard time blocking Suggs, talks with Colin Cowherd about whether there’s a “revenge” factor in facing the Ravens in the AFC Championship. [ESPN]
“Will Hernandez get more carries against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game?” asked James Walker. “It remains to be seen. But his performance against Denver certainly gives the Ravens something to think about. With that said, New England already gained an edge here even if Hernandez isn’t used as a running back this weekend. Baltimore has to spend time preparing for it either way.” [ESPN]
Brady downplayed any concern about him sitting out Wednesday’s practice with a left shoulder ailment. He returned to Thursday’s practice and assured reporters that he still put the time from missing practice to good use. “You can still use all that time very wisely,” he said. “You’re not lounging around taking naps or anything like that. You’re just putting in extra work and make sure you’re getting prepared.” [ESPN]
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano thrives under pressure. “Those who know him say fiery Pagano was made to face challenges like the one Brady and the Patriots will present Sunday,” wrote Jeff Zrebiec. [The Baltimore Sun]