Ravens vs. Patriots: Previewing Key Matchups in 2013 AFC Championship Game

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2013

Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (52) during the second quarter of the AFC divisional round playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Time has passed, but nothing's changed in the AFC, where the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots will once again battle it out in Foxborough for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVII.

Just like last winter's AFC Championship Game, 2013's edition promises to hinge on a handful of key matchups. 

With kickoff less than a week away, let's take a closer look at some of the key battles that will determine which team moves on and which falls short on Sunday night.

Torrey Smith vs. Patriots Secondary

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith can change a game with one catch, as he showed in Baltimore's double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in the last round.

Smith caught just three passes from quarterback Joe Flacco, but he racked up 98 yards and two touchdowns on those three receptions, proving remarkably efficient and deadly on the outside. The Broncos secondary failed to stay in front of Smith all game long, and they paid a hefty price for it.

On Sunday, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson will need to make Smith their top priority in the passing game. Even if the Pats secondary gives up underneath plays to the second-year wideout, it's better than surrendering deep bombs down field.

Smith torched the Pats for 127 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions during the two teams' regular-season meeting in 2012.

Patriots Offensive Line vs. Ravens Front Seven

Every big-time game is decided by the big men at the point of attack, and Sunday's AFC Championship Game will be no different.

New England possesses one of the league's best offensive lines, one that excels in the running game as well as pass protection. The key for the Pats will be keeping quarterback Tom Brady upright and clearing paths for running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. 

For Baltimore's front seven, the key will be applying pressure on passing downs with Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs while remaining stout in run defense with Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata leading the way. Lewis, who leads all playoff defenders with 30 tackles this January, had a game-high 17 tackles against Denver, proving to still be an elite run stopper at middle linebacker. 

In my eyes, this matchup, more than any other, will let us know early on which team is likely to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

Wes Welker vs. Ravens Secondary

With star tight end Rob Gronkowski out nursing a broken arm, this matchup will be critical for both teams. If the Ravens secondary can keep Welker to under 100 yards receiving on Sunday, then they will be in excellent shape to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

Welker makes a living off short crossing routes and is one of the toughest covers in football. He reeled in eight balls for 131 yards in New England's AFC divisional round win over Houston, proving to be Tom Brady's favorite option. Baltimore boasts a superior group of linebackers compared to Houston though, which means the Ravens secondary will have to step up and look to shut down Welker in order to stall the Pats' high-powered offense.

Corey Graham, Cary Williams and others in the secondary will need to stay on top of Welker and force Brady to look elsewhere in the passing game. Otherwise, Baltimore's defense will have a tough time getting off the field on Sunday.

Welker caught eight balls for 142 yards the last time New England played Baltimore, back in Week 3 of the regular season.

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