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Ravens vs. Patriots: Who Has Edge at Every Position in AFC Championship Game?

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2013

Ravens vs. Patriots: Who Has Edge at Every Position in AFC Championship Game?

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    The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship Game with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line. 

    Baltimore is coming off of a heart-stopping victory over the Denver Broncos, while New England just wrapped up routing the Houston Texans

    Both teams are undoubtedly the best the AFC has to offer, but which has the advantage at each positional group heading into the matchup?

    In the following slides, we will break down the battle at each position and determine which team holds the advantage.

Quarterbacks

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    Joe Flacco vs. Tom Brady is an interesting matchup at quarterback. Flacco has been solid in his playoff career, but he still has not shown he can be the type of quarterback who takes over a game.

    To his credit, he may be beginning to turn that around. Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns against the Denver Broncos.

    He has a massive roadblock ahead of him going up against future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Brady dissected the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round for 344 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Brady is far and away the better quarterback here.

    Edge: Patriots

Running Backs

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    Both teams have backs who can go on tears and win games for the offense. 

    For New England, the duo of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley can be very effective thanks to their ability as runners and receivers out of the backfield.

    Baltimore has one of the NFL's elite running backs in Ray Rice, although his production has tapered off a bit. Bernard Pierce is a formidable second back to complement Rice.

    The edge here has to go to the Ravens. While Vereen and Ridley can be deadly because of their versatility, both Rice and Pierce can control the pace of games on their own. 

    Watch for a heavy dose of Rice and Pierce to keep Tom Brady off the field.

    Edge: Ravens 

Wide Receivers

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    Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith picked the right time to step up.

    The duo has combined for 345 yards and three touchdowns this postseason. They are also major reasons why quarterback Joe Flacco has been playing at such a high level. 

    New England has an elite receiver in Wes Welker who has made some noise this postseason as well. Brandon Lloyd has been a disappointment this season, and the offense usually goes through the tight ends.

    Baltimore has an advantage when it comes to wide receivers, and it could make a difference in the outcome.

    Edge: Ravens 

Tight Ends

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    Both teams have high-impact tight ends.

    The Ravens have Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson at their disposal. Pitta has been solid in the postseason and was a contributor in the team's win over the Denver Broncos. 

    New England had the NFL's best duo in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but that has taken a hit with Gronkowski now out for the rest of the postseason with a broken forearm, confirmed by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Even with Gronkowski missing in action, Hernandez is good enough on his own to give the Patriots an edge here. He is a legitimate No. 1 tight end who can be the focal point of the offense during any game. 

    Edge: Patriots

Offensive Line

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    The AFC's two best teams also posses some of the best offensive linemen the NFL has to offer. Joe Flacco was sacked only 35 times this year, while Tom Brady was sacked 27 times. 

    New England has taken a business-as-usual approach with the usual names such as Logan Mankins and Nate Solder. The unit has been as effective as ever in protecting Brady. 

    Baltimore received a recent boost with the return of right guard Marshal Yanda, which has allowed the line to play at an even higher rate than usual. Flacco is protected well, and Ray Rice is usually given decent running lanes. 

    Edge: Even

Defensive Line

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    Both teams have one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the NFL. Baltimore is led by Haloti Ngata, while Vince Wilfork mans the middle for New England. 

    The difference lies in the depth for each unit. The Ravens have had trouble all postseason getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks strictly from their defensive line. 

    New England is deeper along the defensive line. Role players like Rob Ninkovich can make game-changing plays, as evidenced by his performance against the Houston Texans. 

    This is a close one, but the Patriots are a little better in the defensive trenches. 

    Edge: Patriots

Linebackers

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    New England has an outstanding group of linebackers. Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower have performed well all season long.

    Unfortunately for the Patriots, their linebackers are being measured against one of the greatest of all time in Ray Lewis, who has announced he is retiring after the season. 

    Lewis combines with Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger (who happens to be the team's best pass-rusher) to form the best linebacking crew in the NFL outside of San Francisco

    Baltimore is riding high, and the Patriots have their hands full when Lewis and Co. roll into town. 

    Edge: Ravens

Defensive Backs

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    It is not as highly publicized, but Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed could be playing in his last postseason game as well, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora (h/t Rotoworld). 

    Reed is the leader of one of the better secondaries in the NFL, even with the injuries. Bernard Pollard is still a crafty veteran next to Reed, and Corey Graham and Cary Williams have done a decent enough job in stepping up when called upon.

    Aqib Talib has played at a high level for the Patriots. He has helped bring along rookie Alfonzo Dennard, a man who has done some stepping up of his own. Safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory have also benefited from the addition of Talib.

    Right now, the Baltimore secondary is simply playing better. After surviving a date with Peyton Manning, the unit is more than ready to take on Tom Brady. 

    Edge: Ravens 

Special Teams

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    The Ravens have a solid kicking game. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker has been money, missing only three attempts all season long. Punter Sam Koch averages 47 yards per attempt and has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 28 times. 

    The same can be said for the Patriots. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has had another successful year, missing on only six of his attempts. Punter Zoltan Mesko averages 43 yards per punt and has also nailed opponents inside their own 20-yard line 28 times. 

    New England mostly utilizes Wes Welker on punt returns and Devin McCourty on kick returns. Both have been average since the injury to Julian Edelman. 

    Baltimore has the electric Jacoby Jones, who has won games on his punt and kick returns alone for the Ravens. He is one of the NFL's best and gives Baltimore the edge here. 

    Edge: Ravens 

Coaching

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    Comparing any head coach with Bill Belichick is simply unfair at this point, but John Harbaugh stacks up better than you may think. 

    Harbaugh has led the Ravens to the postseason in each of his first four years with the team. Taking down an elite QB in Peyton Manning is just another feather in his cap.

    Belichick is well known. He is one of the greatest minds the game has ever seen, and he once again has the Patriots in a position to make the Super Bowl.

    Belichick gives the Patriots an advantage that could make all the difference.

    Edge: Patriots

Overall

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    Both teams are evenly matched in most areas. In Week 3, the Ravens took down the Patriots in Baltimore, winning 31-30.

    Like most games in today's NFL, the final outcome will likely hinge on quarterback play.

    If Tom Brady is his normal self, the Patriots have the edge. Conversely, if Joe Flacco can play the way he did against Denver, this could be a very close game.

     

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