For the second straight year, the Baltimore Ravens will travel to New England to take on the Patriots for the AFC Championship. Could the result be another case of history repeating itself? I don't think so.
Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans are no longer on team, Joe Flacco has stepped up his game in these playoffs and Ray Lewis wants one last run before he officially retires.
Let's face it, Baltimore will have to dig deeper than ever if they are going to win this game. New England has home-field advantage and they are 5-1 in their last six AFC Championship Game appearances.
Tom Brady anchors the most sophisticated offense in the NFL. Last week, they sliced and diced the Houston Texans defense like a thin-crust pizza, racking up 457 yards of offense and 41 points. They also possess plenty of talent on defense.
The Ravens will once again have their work cut out for them. Can they rise to the occasion like they did against both Indianapolis and Denver?
They can if they stick to a simple and disciplined game plan. The old saying goes "where there's a will, there's a way."
Here are the ways the Ravens can defeat the Patriots and go on to Super Bowl XLVII:
As talented as the Ravens defense is, the offense will be a major factor on Sunday. Here is what the offense needs to do to win the 2012 AFC Championship:
1. Protect Joe Flacco
2. Make Ray Rice the focus of the offense.
3. Block Vince Wilfork
If Joe Flacco is going to continue performing at a high level this post-season, the Ravens offensive line needs to keep him on his feet. Flacco won't be able to throw the ball to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin if he's on his back.
If the Ravens can get 100-plus yards out of Ray Rice and he can move on from the fumbles troubles that cost him carries last week, they will be in good shape. They need to run the ball down New England's throats, weaken their defense, then catch them off guard with play-action.
Of course the offense can't move anywhere if Vince Wilfork is free to roam. He can disrupt offense with his size and brute strength. The Ravens will have to block him on every single play if they are to be successful.
We all know the Ravens are not themselves when the defense isn't performing. Here is what Baltimore's defense needs to accomplish on Sunday:
1. Stay disciplined and be prepared for anything.
2. Pressure Tom Brady
3. Disguise coverage to confuse New England's offense.
4. Unleash the beast that is Ray Lewis.
The Ravens must always be ready, prepared, and disciplined. Last week, New England caught Houston off guard multiple times. New England either went no-huddle, or a very short huddle. And in doing so, they caught the Texas sleepwalking.
Before Houston could line up their defensive front, the Patriots had already snapped the ball. The Ravens need to keep their defensive huddles short. If push comes to shove, don't huddle and use hand signals instead.
Another problem that the Texans had was their inability to bring pressure on Tom Brady, as they only recorded one sack and failed to force him into any turnovers. But Baltimore's defense is fully capable of bringing the pain. They will need a solid and consistent pass rush if they are going to defeat the Patriots on their home turf.
Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and the rest of the Patriots receiving corps can't be beaten with just one coverage. The Ravens will need to mix it up and keep them guessing. If they can confuse Tom Brady, they can prevent big pass plays down the field.
If there is anyone who can stop the two-headed monster that is Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, it's Ray Lewis. This will be the most important match-up of the game. If Lewis can give Ridley and Vereen a hard time, it'll make things harder for Brady.
If the Ravens can make it a long day for Brady, it will be a long day for the Patriots.