Sunday night's battle will be a rematch of last season's AFC Championship game, which as ESPN Stats & Info points out, doesn't happen all that often:
For 2nd straight year, Patriots-Ravens in AFC Champ. 1st rematch in a Conf Champ since the Cowboys and 49ers met in 3 straight from 1992-94.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 17, 2013
The Ravens are heavy underdogs, but are coming off a thrilling double-overtime win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos while the Patriots enter this one fresh off another beat down of the Houston Texans.
Baltimore defeated New England back in Week 3, as Joe Flacco outdueled Brady to earn a 31-30 victory.
In what could very well be Lewis' retirement party, here's your guide to the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
When: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL.com
Spread: Patriots (-8.5) via Bet Online
New England hasn't had much trouble blowing opponents out this season (see: Houston Texans), but with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line in what could very well be Ray Lewis' last game, Baltimore will keep this game close.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense have been playing at a high level since the postseason started, averaging 31 PPG in wins over the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos.
With Lewis leading the charge on defense and providing the emotional edge for Baltimore, I'm taking the Ravens with the points on the road.
There's a trend going on in the playoffs this season: points.
Last week in the divisional round, the least amount of points scored in any of the four games played was 58 (Seattle at Atlanta).
The Patriots are coming off a 41-point effort, the Ravens are averaging 31 PPG and these two combined for 61 points in Week 3.
I'd like the over, please.
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
RB Bernard Pierce—Knee—PRB
DE Chandler Jones—Ankle—PRB
RB Danny Woodhead—Thumb—PRB
Players to Watch
Ravens: Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco will be under a microscope in the AFC Championship Game, as you can see by this Sports Illustrated cover (h/t Baltimore Ravens Twitter page):
Even though he outplayed Tom Brady in last year's championship game and again in Week 3 of this season, there are still plenty of doubters regarding the Ravens QB.
This postseason, Flacco has thrown for five touchdowns and zero interceptions to go with a 120.0 passer rating.
Baltimore needs Flacco to play just as flawlessly in Foxborough to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.
Patriots: Wes Welker
With Rob Gronkowski lost for the season, Wes Welker's role becomes all the more important, as we saw against the Texans last weekend.
Welker was Brady's leading receiver against Houston, catching eight passes on 13 targets for 131 yards, including an outstanding 47-yard grab.
Back in Week 3, Welker pretty much did the same thing to the Ravens defense, amassing eight receptions for 142 yards—an average of 17.8 yards per reception, which was his second-highest mark of the season.
Along with an improved running game, Welker will be an important key to a New England win on Sunday night.
Key to Ravens Win: Mistake-Free Play by Flacco
As I said earlier, Flacco has been nearly perfect this playoff season and he'll need to mirror those performances to beat New England on the road.
We all know what Baltimore's defense can do with the likes of Lewis and Ed Reed, but it's the Ravens offense that has come into question this season.
Ray Rice is an enormous key to the Ravens success, but the decision-making of Baltimore's QB is ultimately what's going to determine the outcome of Sunday night's game.
Key to Patriots Win: Continue Running the Football
When the Patriots fell to the Ravens during the regular season, Stevan Ridley rushed for just 37 yards, as New England as a team gained a mere 77 total rushing yards.
Not to say that Tom Brady can't take a game over with his right arm, but the Patriots offense has been at its best this season when an effective balance between run and pass has been established.
It won't be easy to run against Baltimore's defense, but the added dimension of a running game is the key for New England at home in the AFC Championship Game.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 28
Now the winningest quarterback in postseason history, Tom Brady leads his Patriots to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
Aqib Talib will do a great job of keeping Torrey Smith and the rest of Baltimore's receiving corps in front of him while the Patriots offense establishes the run and ultimately lets Brady take over the game.
New England gets back to the Super Bowl.
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