The New England Patriots are just two wins away from winning their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. On Sunday, they will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.
The two clubs have played each other extremely close of late. In the 2012 championship game, New England escaped with a 23-20 victory, as Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the contest into overtime. In Week Three of the regular season, the Ravens beat the Patriots by one point.
Despite the results of the recent meetings, the Patriots are overwhelming favorites. They are giving the Ravens nine points at most Las Vegas casinos.
Baltimore has been impressive in the 2013 playoffs. They beat the Indianapolis Colts and came back to defeat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver. However, New England should win if they are at the top of their game.
Here are five reasons why the Patriots will beat the Ravens on Sunday:
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It can be debated who is the best quarterback in the NFL. Peyton Manning led the Broncos to the No.1 seed in the AFC, and is a frontrunner to be named the league’s MVP. Aaron Rodgers put up incredible numbers, once again, leading the league with a 108.0 passer rating. In his 13th season, though, Tom Brady continues to play as well as anybody.
In 2012, he threw 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. His 4,827 passing yards were good for fourth in the league, and he led the Patriots to their 10th playoff appearance in the past 12 seasons.
Joe Flacco leads all quarterbacks in the playoffs with a 120.0 passer rating, but he’s never kept up this level of play for an extended period of time. The team with the better quarterback usually wins in the playoffs, and there is little debate in this case.
The Baltimore Ravens have been one of the best home teams in the NFL under John Harbaugh. In the past three years, they’ve lost just three games in Baltimore.
On the road, though, the Ravens haven’t been nearly as successful. They have 11 road losses in that time period.
As good as the Ravens are at home, the Patriots are even better at Gillette Stadium. In the past four seasons, they’ve lost just three times in New England.
Playing at New England on Sunday, it’s understandable why Baltimore is such a heavy underdog. Perhaps their win in Denver is proof that the location of the game won’t matter, but recent history indicates that the Patriots are almost unbeatable in front of their fans.
The Patriots are known for their offense, and for good reason. Only two other teams in NFL history have scored more points per game than the 2012 Patriots. They averaged 34.8 points per game, and had five games of at least 40 points.
Since New England’s offense has carried them for much of the year, their defense has been overshadowed. Unlike last season, the Patriots have been able to consistently stop opposing offenses. In half of their games, New England has allowed less than 20 points, and has been especially good against the run.
Baltimore is no longer the feared defensive unit they once were. The Ravens allowed more points per game than the Patriots in the regular season, and even gave up 35 points in their playoff win against the Broncos. With no distinct advantage on defense, it will be tough for Baltimore to pull off the upset.
In the 2012 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens almost advanced to the Super Bowl by keeping the Patriots rushing attack in check. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was limited to just 68 yards on the ground, which allowed Baltimore to focus on stopping Brady. The quarterback ended up throwing two interceptions, and scored just one touchdown.
It will be difficult for Baltimore to have a repeat performance when facing Stevan Ridley. He’s the best running back the club has had since Corey Dillon in 2004. Ridley registered 1,263 rushing yards in his second season.
The Ravens rushing defense was 20th in the NFL, and will have their hands full with Ridley. If he has a big game, New England could have another big scoring game.
It’s hard to find a team that has played better than the New England Patriots in the second half of the season. After starting off the year at 3-3, they have won 10 of their last 11 games, including the playoffs. A majority of the Patriots' wins have come in dominant fashion, including five victories by at least four touchdowns.
The Ravens have won their first two postseason games, but they ended the regular season very poorly. They lost four of their last five games to end 2012.
Sometimes having a first-round bye can have a negative effect on a team, but New England proved that wasn’t the case with their win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. If the Patriots can play like they have since Week Seven, it could be a long day for the Ravens.