By Mark Beauchamp, Contributing Writer, Die-hard Pats Fan
The New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday (6:30 CBS) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA.
In earning their way to a rematch of last year’s classic AFC title game won by New England in dramatic fashion, the Ravens and Patriots have proven themselves to be the true iron of the AFC in this era of NFL history. Each team has overcome major adversity, uncertainty and doubt during the long season while epitomizing the will, intelligence and talent required to be true champions in the NFL. Anything can happen when it’s down to one last AFC game of the season and this one could go either way on Sunday. But one thing is for sure, when you line up the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens out there on that football field you will see well coached, highly motivated, big, physical hard hitting players bound and determined to defeat their opponents. This is a rivalry that has matured into one of the best in sports and one that NFL Films will be talking about 10 years down the road. It’s a rivalry that features some of the NFL’s biggest stars of the past decade and you can bet on this game coming down to the wire – probably coming down once again to that to one final possession with the Lamar Hunt Trophy a trip to the Super Bowl hanging in the balance.
Oh this is gonna be a big one.
The Championship rematch was made possible by the Patriots taking care of their business at home and the Ravens achieving the seemingly impossible in the Divisional Playoffs. The Pats continued to expose the Houston Texans as heir apparent to the San Diego Chargers for the AFC Frauds of the Decade award with a 41-28 whipping of the Friday Night Lights Varsity Jacket Boys. The Ravens meanwhile scored one of the most impressive wins in franchise history with an incredible come from behind 38-35 double overtime victory over Peyton Manning and the Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
And now they meet again back in Foxboro.
It’s familiar turf for Pats head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as they play in their 7th AFC Championship game – amazing. New England is 5-1 in their previous 6 trips to the big game including a 4-0 record at home. Baltimore is no stranger to big playoff games either and they will surely have revenge on their mind after their heartbreaking AFC title game loss in New England last season. Quarterback Joe Flacco has taken his share of criticism – this corner of Fanzooloo has dished out plenty – but you are what your record says you are in the NFL. And that means Flacco is a winner and a dangerous opponent for the Patriots in particular. The Ravens have the additional motivation of trying to send their spiritual leader and all time NFL great linebacker Ray Lewis out a winner in his final season.
Brady and Belichick know all about Ray Lewis and this Ravens defense. Baltimore lines up one legend after another on D from safety Ed Reed to linebacker Terrell Suggs to tackle Haloti Ngata. A stack of studs – but with a touch of grey. The Patriots will look to employ their turbo offense to wear the older Ravens down and take advantage of mismatches. Brady and the Pats have been nearly unstoppable when they get the up tempo no huddle offense in gear. Baltimore will likely roll a lot of nickel defensive packages featuring more defensive backs designed to slow Brady’s aerial attack. New England will seek to take advantage of that by establishing the run and keeping the offense moving at a rapid pace to dictate the defensive personnel Baltimore is able to use. In the passing game Brady will seek out the irrepressible Wes Welker. He may find Welker well covered but Brady has always said his favorite receiver is the open receiver. Even with rock star tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the season with a broken arm Brady will have plenty of options in his toolbox.
Defensively the Pats have to be concerned with a multidimensional and explosive Baltimore offense. Flacco and the Ravens’ have the proven ability to attack their opponents deep and they take as many shots down the field as anyone in the league. Flacco loves to throw the deep ball and has had success targeting receivers like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. The Pats picked up defensive back Aqib Talib midseason to help shore up their Ooze Don’t Loose Defense and he is the closest thing to a shutdown corner they’ve had in years. Talib will likely be lined up against Smith most of the game in what may prove to be a key matchup. The Patriots may keep their safeties deep to prevent the long pass and rely on Vince Wilfork and the defensive line to handle the big Ravens offensive line and contain the potent Ravens running game featuring the wicked dangerous Ray Rice.
So here we go again sports fans. The Patriots and Ravens wiggling in Foxboro for the Lamar Hunt Trophy and the right to represent the AFC at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Familiar foes and worthy adversaries like it was meant to be. We know their weakness – they know our limitations. These Patriots and Ravens teams have shown they have the guts and smarts to be champions. And no one can ever question their heart. Two damn good football teams that deserve to be here.
This will be an all time classic Pats fans.
Get the tailgate cranking early … get lubed up … be a factor.
F the Ravens …. Go Pats Go.
More Patriot rants from Mark Beauchamp.
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