New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady will square off against Baltimore Ravens legendary middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the final time Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, but there will be no love lost.
As much respect as these two players and franchises have for one another, each is trying to advance to the Super Bowl and there is no time for sentimental moments.
These organizations are trying to secure a spot in the most important football game of the year, and that will result in one of the most intense matchups of the entire season.
This bitter battle between the Ravens and the Patriots will help make Sunday the best conference championship weekend in NFL history.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Audio Pass
Listen: 97.9 ROCK (Baltimore) or WBZ 98.5 FM (New England)
Spread: New England -8 (via Vegas Insider)
Baltimore’s Keys to Victory
Despite Baltimore’s defense being what most fans think about when talking about the Ravens, it was the offensive unit in 2012-13 that helped separate the team from the rest of the AFC and secure this spot in the conference championship.
The Ravens were able to hang 38 points on the tough Denver Broncos defense last week in the divisional round, but the team was forced into two overtimes and barely secured the victory after allowing 35 points.
While the offensive assault is a welcomed addition to the team’s arsenal, Baltimore must remember that it has been such a success over the years predicated on strong defensive play and timely scoring.
New England’s Keys to Victory
There is no questioning how susceptible New England’s defensive unit has been this season—ranked 29th in the league against the pass with 271.4 yards allowed per game—and it will be burned by Torrey Smith and the Baltimore pass attack Sunday.
That’s why the Patriots’ own offensive unit needs to step up huge and put up the numbers it did against the Houston Texans in the divisional round (122 yards rushing and 344 yards passing for 466 yards of total offense).
Ray Lewis and the Ravens front seven will try to stop Stevan Ridley and the rushing attack, but as long as Tom Brady can exploit the coverage mismatches in the passing game like he always does, New England will dispense of Baltimore and advance to the Super Bowl.
Prediction: New England 34, Baltimore 17
While the Baltimore Ravens' run to the AFC Championship Game has been amazing and the final retirement tour for Ray Lewis has been inspirational, the New England Patriots are the flat-out better team and will prove it Sunday.
Baltimore’s offensive unit has been playing much better over the last two weeks, but it still can’t hold a candle to what Bill Belichick and the Patriots have created with their own offensive assault.
As long as New England pass protects and gives Brady time in the pocket to make his reads and go through his progressions, the Patriots will be able to hang a win on Baltimore and cash their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Ray Lewis’ dream finish will come to an ending too soon.