With a 13-3 regular season record and perhaps the best offense in football, the New England Patriots are favored to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens have a few secret weapons that will lead them to victory, however.
New England has been dominating its competition lately, as it has won nine straight games dating back to the regular season. Baltimore is no pushover either, though, as it won the AFC North with a record of 12-4 and has won seven of its past eight contests.
The Ravens' hallmark has always been defense, but this game will be won or loss depending on how Baltimore's offense performs against the lackluster New England defense. Here are three unheralded players who will lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
TE Ed Dickson
On an offense that is dominated by running back Ray Rice, it's easy to forget somebody like tight end Ed Dickson. While Dickson didn't exactly put up numbers in line with former Ravens tight end Todd Heap this past season, he was very respectable. Dickson caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns on the year and was one of quarterback Joe Flacco's most reliable targets.
Dickson is extremely athletic and capable of exploiting matchups in the middle of the field and down the seam. The Patriots ranked 31st in the league against the pass during the regular season, as they allowed close to 300 yards per game through the air. The Pats' linebackers won't be able to cover Dickson, and if they put safety Patrick Chung on him, then it will open up space for the wide receivers.
How Dickson fares will be key to Baltimore's success.
FB Vonta Leach
Perhaps no position in football is more thankless than fullback. Ravens fullback Vonta Leach may have only rushed for 35 yards and caught 15 passes on the season, but there is no denying how important he was to Baltimore's offense. Leach serves as the lead blocker for running back Ray Rice, and he was a huge reason why Rice rushed for 1,364 yards and gained 4.7 yards per carry on the year.
While passing the ball may be the most efficient way to move the ball on New England's defense, Baltimore's running game will have to be good as well. The key to beating the Patriots is to keep quarterback Tom Brady and the explosive offense off the field. While the defense will certainly have to play its part, the running game will be vital too. Leach will have a lot to do with how Rice fares.
WR Lee Evans
After being acquired from the Buffalo Bills prior to the start of the season, wide receiver Lee Evans was expected to be a huge part of the Baltimore offense in terms of stretching the field. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition, as Evans battled injuries throughout the year and amazingly caught only four passes all season long.
Evans is now healthy, and although he caught just one pass against the Houston Texans last week, he made it count. It went for 30 yards and was a high degree of difficulty. Some of Evans' struggles can be attributed to the Ravens being a run-first team, but I think there will be a change of philosophy against New England's porous secondary. With most of the attention being paid to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, look for Evans to have his best game as a Raven.