The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have consistently been among the two best teams in the AFC in recent years.
Since 2009, both clubs have made the playoffs every season. The Patriots have won their division, and at least 10 games, in each of the past four seasons. Baltimore has two division titles and a minimum of one postseason win in each season, during that time.
For the second straight year, the two teams will face off for the right to go to the Super Bowl. New England will host Baltimore on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in a matchup that has a recent history of tight battles.
The 2012 AFC Championship Game was about as close as any title game in recent memory. The Patriots escaped with a three-point victory, earning a matchup with the New York Giants after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal in the final seconds. Two plays earlier, wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have likely given the Ravens the victory.
Baltimore got a measure of revenge in Week Three of the 2012 season. They defeated the Patriots 31-30 on a game-winning field goal.
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With the Ravens playing New England close in both contests, the club has a good chance to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001. They enter the game with some momentum, having already beaten the Indianapolis Colts, as well as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a comeback victory.
Still, New England will enter the contest as heavy favorites. Baltimore opened the week as 10-point underdogs at most Las Vegas casinos. The point spread reflects the Patriots odds of winning Super Bowl XLVII, which sit at close to even odds at some sportsbooks.
The Patriots have been the most dominant team in the NFL for much of the year. Since Week Seven, they’ve lost just one game. They won nine of their last 10 regular season games, with an average margin of victory of over 20 points.
Both teams have been playing especially well on offense. This comes as no surprise for the Patriots, who sport one of the best offenses in the history of the NFL. Their 34.8 points per game are behind only the 2011 Green Bay Packers and 2007 Patriots.
The Ravens have been ignited by the strong play of Joe Flacco. In his two playoff games, the quarterback has played as well as he ever has in his entire career. He has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 120.0 passer rating.
In order for Baltimore to pull off the upset, Flacco will likely have to outperform Tom Brady. As daunting of a task as that might be, he’s done exactly that in the last two matchup between the teams. In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Flacco threw for two scores, while Brady threw two picks and no touchdowns. In the 2012 regular season meeting, Flacco’s passer rating eclipsed Brady’s by 16.5.
Unlike the Baltimore teams of years past, this one does not have an elite defensive unit. In the final year of his career and having battled injuries, Ray Lewis is no longer the dominant force that he used to be. New England’s defense has been vulnerable against the pass, but above-average, overall.
It’s no wonder why the Patriots are heavy favorites. They have the best offense in the game, which is led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Even the defense is improved from recent years, and might be better than that of the Ravens.
The Patriots also have home-field advantage, which could play a big factor in determining the winner. Both teams are much better in front of their home fans. In the past three years, the Ravens have 11 losses on the road, compared to just three losses in Baltimore.
Betting Line: New England -9, 51.5
Prediction: If Brady and the Patriots are at their best, it will be very difficult for the Ravens to pick up win on the road. However, Flacco has shown that he has the ability to go toe-to-toe with Brady. Baltimore’s defense isn’t one of the best in the league, but they know how to keep Brady in check. Other than the New York Jets, the Ravens do a better job of stopping Brady than any team in football, according to ESPN’s QBR. The Ravens proved with their victory in Denver that they can get a big win away from Baltimore, and the combination of Flacco and Ray Rice might be enough for them to upset the Patriots and advance to Super Bowl 47.
Predicted Score: Baltimore 31, New England 30