Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. This perfectly describes what will happen when the Baltimore Ravens take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
These two teams played in the same game a year ago with the Patriots coming out on top. If the Ravens want to see a different outcome, they must get better performances from some key players.
On the other side, the Patriots know that they can do better than what they showed in last year's close win and the regular season loss to the Ravens.
Fortunately, both teams should expect big performances from these key players.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
While Tom Brady has been outstanding this year, he has struggled at times against elite defenses. He threw two interceptions in each game against the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, both of which ended in losses.
Last week, the Ravens forced Peyton Manning to throw two interceptions as well.
Fortunately, Brady has something that Manning does not: experience playing in the cold.
Manning was forced to wear gloves on both hands for the first time in his career and that seemed to affect his accuracy throughout the game. Brady, on the other hand, has been quite successful playing in the New England cold.
He proved that once again in the last game when he threw for 344 yards with three touchdown passes. Brady should be able to do that at least one more time against an inconsistent Baltimore pass defense.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens usually rely on Ray Rice to be the focal point of the offense, but that will not work against the Patriots.
Although New England's defense is ranked No. 29 against the pass this season, it is ninth against the run. This means that Baltimore must take advantage of the defense's weakness through the air.
Torrey Smith was very impressive against Champ Bailey and the Broncos last week, totaling 98 yards on only three catches, two of them for touchdowns.
The receiver's straight-line speed will be incredibly valuable as quarterback Joe Flacco will once again look to throw the deep ball against a defense that is susceptible to this type of attack.
If the Ravens attempt five long passes to Smith on the day, he should be able to complete at least two or three and have a big day.
Devin McCourty, S, New England Patriots
While Torrey Smith should be able to do damage against New England's cornerbacks, Joe Flacco will still have a hard time beating Devin McCourty with consistency.
The former cornerback moved to safety during the season, and in his new position has continued his great playmaking ability. He finished the season with five interceptions, totaling 14 in his three-year career.
McCourty is a risk-taker in the secondary, often going for the ball and sometimes missing it. While he might give up a big play against the Ravens, he also can change the game with a big turnover.
With the way that Flacco enjoys throwing the ball up, McCourty should be expected to get a few pass defenses and possibly an interception or two.
Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Over the last two games, it seems like the only player anyone has noticed on defense for the Ravens is Ray Lewis.
This is not without merit, as the veteran player has totaled 30 tackles since returning from a triceps injury that held him out for most of the season.
However, Terrell Suggs had his best game of the year against the Broncos despite going almost completely unnoticed. The pass-rusher finished with two sacks and 10 solo tackles as he was able to keep Peyton Manning under pressure all game.
Suggs had struggled since returning from an Achilles injury and only had two sacks all season, but it finally seems like he is healthy.
The Patriots offensive line has done a good job of protecting Tom Brady this year, but Suggs has a chance to make a huge difference with his ability to get to the quarterback. If he can, the Patriots might be in trouble offensively.