For the second straight season, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will square off in the AFC Championship Game.
New England narrowly escaped last year’s contest after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the final seconds. Now, the two will meet again in Foxboro on Sunday evening.
As the home team and the No.2 seed in the conference, the Patriots enter the game as overwhelming favorites. The betting line, which opened at 10 points, is currently eight at most Las Vegas casinos. Of the four remaining teams in the NFL playoffs, the Patriots have the best odds of winning the Super Bowl at most sportsbooks.
The Ravens may be heavy underdogs, but they still have a good chance to pull off an upset. The two clubs have a recent history of tight battles, and Baltimore don't appear intimidated by the streaking Patriots.
Here are three reasons why the Ravens will beat the Patriots and advance to Super Bowl XLVII:
Joe Flacco Can Outplay Tom Brady
It’s not often that Tom Brady is outplayed by the opponent’s quarterback. That has been the case, though, in the last two meetings between these teams.
Even though New England won last season, Flacco had a much better game than Brady. He threw for two touchdowns and over 300 yards, while Brady was intercepted twice and was unable to complete a pass for a score.
In the Ravens Week Three win over the Patriots, Flacco did it again. Brady improved upon his previous performance, throwing for 335 yards and a score. Flacco threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He also led Baltimore on a 70-yard game-winning drive.
There’s no question that Brady is the better quarterback. His three championship rings and two MVP’s dwarf anything that Flacco has accomplished, but the Ravens quarterback is one of the few that has shown he can go toe-to-toe with Brady in a big game.
Baltimore’s Deep Threat
While New England is known for its high-powered offense, its defense has shown an ability to stifle the opposition. The Patriots defense ranked higher than the Ravens, allowing 20.7 points per game to Baltimore’s 21.5.
The Patriots defense may be improved from a year ago, but they still have one major weakness: pass defense. New England finished the regular season 29th in the league, allowing 271.4 yards through the air per game.
Ray Rice is Baltimore’s best offensive weapon, but they also have playmakers that can stretch the field. Jacoby Jones showed his big-play ability in the Baltimore win over the Denver Broncos when he caught a 70-yard touchdown pass to send the game into overtime. Torrey Smith finished 32nd in the regular season in total receiving yards, but 15th in catches of 20 yards or more.
Even if Flacco comes back down to earth and fails to maintain his hot play into Sunday, he can keep his team in the game with a few long passes. The Patriots secondary can be taken advantage of, and could be the reason why they fail to reach the Super Bowl.
Nobody seems to know the Patriots as well as the Ravens. This will be the sixth meeting between the clubs in the past four years. The Ravens are 2-3 in the last five games.
Despite their losing record, the Ravens have more than proven that they can hang with the Patriots. None of Baltimore’s losses have come by more than six points, and they managed to beat New England by 19 in their 2010 playoff game.
Head coach John Harbaugh has learned to slow down New England’s dynamic offense. Brady’s 83.0 passer rating in his career against Baltimore is his lowest against any AFC opponent.
The Ravens past success against the Patriots gives them a confidence that few teams have. The Patriots have one of the best home-field advantages in the league. While many teams might feel overwhelmed on Sunday, Baltimore won’t be affected at all.