sides 3-4 .429
totals 5-3 .625
AFC Championship: Baltimore at New England 3pm EST CBS:
After cruising to a lopsided victory behind another extraordinary Tom Brady-led offensive display last weekend, the New England Patriots find themselves on the verge of their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 seasons. While the Baltimore Ravens' path to the AFC championship game proved to be a bit more rocky, they continue to persevere thanks to one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The Ravens look to slow down Brady and the prolific Patriots offense Sunday when these teams meet in Foxborough with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line.
Coming into last weekend with three consecutive postseason defeats - the first of those a loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII - New England (14-3) snapped that skid in emphatic fashion in the divisional round Saturday. The Patriots jumped out to a 14-0 lead and rolled to a 45-10 blowout of Denver, as Brady threw for 363 yards and matched an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes. While Brady was able to pick apart the Broncos' defense, a repeat performance against the Ravens (13-4) may be harder to come by. Baltimore ranks third in the NFL with 16.6 points and 288.9 yards allowed per game, and it led the conference with 48 sacks - 14 by Terrell Suggs.
The challenge for New England's passing attack, second in the league with 317.8 yards a game, is solving a Ravens' pass defense that gave up 196.3 yards per contest during the regular season - fourth in the NFL. Brady is all too familiar with Baltimore's ability on defense. Those four players were part of a unit that helped spark the Ravens to a 33-14 wild-card victory over New England in the teams' only playoff meeting Jan. 10, 2010. Brady threw three interceptions, was sacked three times and threw for just 154 yards as the Patriots lost after falling behind 24-0 in the first quarter.
New England will be facing a Ravens team that seems unlikely to be intimidated by the Gillette Stadium surroundings as it seeks its first Super Bowl appearance since winning the championship in 2000. At least one of Joe Flacco's teammates, however, could be worried about whether the quarterback will be able to keep up with New England's explosive offense. Baltimore survived against Houston in the divisional round, winning 20-13 after forcing four turnovers - including Reed's late interception to help seal the win, but the Ravens are going to have to bring more to the table if they are to pull off the upset on the road.
Flacco, the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons in the league, threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns versus the Texans but was sacked five times and missed several easy throws, combined with numerous drops by the Ravens receivers that would kill potential put-away drives. That could be a problem if Baltimore can't get its 10th-ranked rushing game going for a second straight week. Rice, second in the league with 1,364 yards on the ground, managed 60 on 21 carries as the Ravens rushed for 87 yards - well below their 124.8 average. While New England could struggle to slow down Baltimore's ground game, the Ravens are sure to have their hands full with the Patriots' tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Gronkowski, who broke NFL single-season records for his position with 1,327 yards and 17 TDs, caught 10 passes for 145 yards and matched a postseason record with three more scores versus Denver. Hernandez hauled in four passes for 55 yards and a TD to go along with a team-high 61 rushing yards before leaving with a head injury in the fourth quarter. The Patriots averaged 428.0 yards, second in the league, and their 32.1 points a contest were third. Brady's 5,235 passing yards were second most in NFL history, trailing Drew Brees' 5,476, a mark he established this year. New England has dominated Baltimore in the regular season, winning all six meetings, while Brady has gone 4-1 against the Ravens including the playoff game. However, his 71.4 quarterback rating in those contests is his lowest against any team.
New England won't have to worry about Terrible Towels or choppy turf at Gillette Stadium, but they will have to concern themselves with keeping Brady clean when under pressure from Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, among others. If New England's offensive line can do to Baltimore's rush what it did to Denver's, then Brady will be in for another fine day and have the Pats on their way to Lucas Oil Stadium.
New England -6 (bought point) and over 49.5