AFC Championship: 5 Trends to Watch for in Ravens-Patriots

Josh Toyofuku@jtoyofuku8Contributor IIIJanuary 20, 2012

AFC Championship: 5 Trends to Watch for in Ravens-Patriots

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    This Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) will head to Foxboro, Massachusetts to face the New England Patriots (13-3) in the AFC Championship game.

    It's yet another matchup with a high-powered defense taking on a high-powered offense; that should make for some great battles when Tom Brady is on the field trying to pick apart the Baltimore defense.

    While we don't know how the game will play out and who will earn their spot in Super Bowl XLVI, we do know some trends to look out for during the game.

    Read on to find out what to watch for on Sunday.

Average Joe

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    The Ravens drafted Joe Flacco in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft with great aspirations for the former Delaware signal-caller.

    But with each and every throw that Flacco has made since then, we just find out that Flacco is completely average.

    He finished tied for sixth in touchdowns (20), seventh in the AFC in yards per game (225.6) and passer rating (80.9) and tied for eighth in yards per pass (6.7).

    But that's OK for the Ravens, because they have such a dominating defense and the second-best running back in the league in terms of yards, Ray Rice.

Scoring Tight Ends

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    New England Patriots tight ends have been on a tear all season long.

    Rob Gronkowski (pictured) caught the most touchdown passes in the league with 18 and Aaron Hernandez added seven to that total.

    Last week against the Broncos, Gronkowski caught three more touchdowns, putting him only one score behind the New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks for the most in the postseason—in one less game. Add Aaron Hernandez to the equation and the two New England tight ends are tied with Nicks.

    Having two huge tight ends who can catch the ball has created great opportunities for quarterback Tom Brady and he has taken advantage of the mismatches all season.

    Now it's up to the Ravens defense to try and stop that from happening. 

Baltimore Defense

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    The Baltimore Ravens defense is as stout as ever, even as linebacker Ray Lewis (pictured) and safety Ed Reed get older.

    In 2011, the Ravens finished in the top four in yards, yards per game, points, points per game, passing yards, passing yards per game, rushing yards and rushing yards per game.

    The Ravens boast the fourth-best pass defense and the second-best rush defense and they will be going up against the team with the second-best passing attack.

    It will be very interesting to see if Lewis and the Ravens defense can hold tight like they have all season long.

Tom Brady's Turnovers

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    Tom Brady looked terrific for the Patriots in last week's 45-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. He threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns and had a 48-yard punt.

    But Brady has struggled before in the playoffs on Patriots teams that looked primed to win the Super Bowl. In 2010, when the Patriots matched up against the Ravens in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, Brady threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball once en route to a 33-14 loss at home.

    In 2011, Brady threw an interception and got sacked five times by the New York Jets in a 28-21 loss at home.

    If Brady can limit his turnovers, the Patriots will have the advantage.

Ray Rice's Impact

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    Including the playoffs, the Ravens have gone 12-2 whenever Ray Rice rushes for more than 100 yards.

    In both of those losses, the Ravens lost by less than a touchdown and Rice didn't score.

    Furthermore, this season, in each of the Ravens four losses, Rice averaged 38.75 yards with no touchdowns. In their 13 wins, including last week's victory over the Texans, Rice has averaged 97.6 yards and .93 touchdowns.

    Theoretically, if Rice can rush for at least 100 yards and score once, the Ravens should win.