The two most successful postseason teams of the last six years in the AFC will meet Sunday to decide which franchise represents the conference in Super Bowl XLVII.
Winners of seven playoff games since drafting quarterback Joe Flacco in 2008, the Baltimore Ravens will travel to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. Since 2007, New England has won five playoff games and appeared in two Super Bowls.
In the following slides, we'll break down the five matchups that will decide whether the Ravens or Patriots advance past the AFC title game Sunday.
Plugged in as a starter at left tackle to start the playoffs, Bryant McKinnie has helped solidify the Ravens offensive line. Michael Oher moved to right tackle, while Kelechi Osemele shifted inside to left guard.
According to Pro Football Focus, McKinnie hasn't allowed a sack over 141 snaps since taking over on the left side. Overall, quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked just once in two playoff games.
To break down the Ravens' improved front Sunday, the Patriots need Chandler Jones and his bum ankle to provide pressure off the edge.
Jones was shut out in a limited number of snaps against the Houston Texans in the divisional round and then had to leave because of an ankle injury. He's probable. Even if he's at 80 percent or so, Jones needs to make his presence known.
The Ravens love lining up with a fullback in front of running plays and pounding Ray Rice at defenses.
Against Denver's very good run defense, Rice bowled his way to 131 yards on 30 carries, with Vonta Leach out in front of most of the power runs. With Jim Caldwell calling the plays, it's reasonable to expect that to continue Sunday.
However, the Ravens might favor getting Rice into space in the passing game Sunday. Against the Texans, New England allowed Arian Foster to catch seven passes for 63 yards and a score.
The Patriots have talented linebackers, but this is a tough matchup for any group. Rice is dynamic catching the football and can continue the success Foster had in the divisional round out of the backfield.
This week, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick went out of his way to praise the Ravens' use of the deep passing game.
“It’s a very explosive team with a lot of big plays,” Belichick said, according to the Ravens' website. “They can kill you on the deep balls. … They do a real good job on the deep balls, really good.”
Flacco has completed 10 passes of 20 or more yards in these playoffs, including touchdowns of 50 or more yards to both Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith.
In the first meeting between these two, Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two scores, even with the Patriots playing mostly Cover-2 to take away the deep ball. Flacco ended up with 382 yards and three scores, two of which came from 20 or more yards out.
Both the Ravens and Patriots can feel somewhat lucky to be playing Sunday after the performances of each team's special teams in the divisional round.
Baltimore allowed the Broncos' Trindon Holliday to become the first returner in playoff history to return a punt and a kick for a score, while New England gave up a 54-yard average (on four attempts) to Texans kick returner Danieal Manning.
Recent history between these teams suggests Sunday will be a close game that is decided late. Don't be surprised if the special teams from one side makes the difference, good or bad.
While New England finished as the No. 7 rushing team in the NFL this season, Brady and his right arm still power the Patriots' top-ranked overall offense.
The all-important matchup between New England's passing game and Baltimore's pass defense might just decide who goes to New Orleans.
In the first meeting, New England received a 335-yard, one-touchdown performance from Brady. Both Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd totalled over 100 yards receiving, while the running game mostly floundered.
Few quarterbacks make better use than Brady of his full range of targets, from receivers to tight ends to backs. Do the Ravens have the horses on defense to keep up with the blitzkrieg? We'll find out Sunday.