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Baltimore Ravens Big Underdogs in New England

The Baltimore Ravens once again find themselves in the AFC Championship Game playing the New England Patriots. The Ravens were one stripped Lee Evans catch away from going to the Super Bowl last season; can they do it again? Many of the key players in last season’s drama, including Evans, Patriots safety Sterling Moore and Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff are no longer with their teams, but every indication is that we’re in for another instant classic on Sunday.

“It’s definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say,” said Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “I don’t know how they feel about that. We have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots (and) their coaches.”

While it may feel like a rivalry to the Ravens, Baltimore is 0-2 in AFC Championship games under coach John Harbaugh, and badly need a win here to solidify their place among the NFL’s elite squads. They have already beaten the Patriots once this season, though in a sloppy replacement referee-officiated game. Why, then, are the Ravens nine point favorites heading into Foxborough on Sunday?

Simply put, the Patriots offense is a juggernaut. They ranked fourth in passing yardage this season with 291.4 yards per game and seventh in rushing yardage, typically the team’s only offensive weakness, averaging 136.5 yards per game on the ground. The Ravens’ defense, for all of its big names, has been fairly mediocre this season, ranking 17th in the league in passing yardage allowed and 20th in rushing yardage allowed. They could have a long day in the cold New England weather if the Patriots’ offense gets going. However, the Pats’ D isn’t any great shakes either.

The biggest weakness on the Patriots defense is their secondary. They are ranked 29th in the league against the pass, a dreadful mark, and Baltimore deep threat Torrey Smith made hay against them the last time these two teams played, catching six balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns mere hours after he found out that his younger brother had died in an accident. Baltimore also amassed 503 yards total, a number the Patriots can’t give up again if they hope to win. However, rather disconcertingly, Baltimore still only won by a point (31-30) despite racking up those kinds of offensive numbers. It goes to show that the Patriots can score and keep up with anyone; the same thing happened in their game against the San Francisco 49ers a few weeks ago when they fell far behind. Tom Brady engineered four straight touchdown drives, and just like that, they were back in the game. In the Brady-Belichick era, the Pats can score whenever, however and wherever they please.

Of course, you can’t talk about this game without talking about Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of the most popular and controversial professional athletes of the past quarter century. Lewis is set to retire at the end of the year.

“I never slowed down to really think about, ‘Oh, will you come back?’ Nah, I can’t come back,” Lewis said. “My kids are calling for Daddy. It’s a great reward to see the sacrifice my babies have made for me, and it’s time that I sacrifice for them.”

He’s been playing like a man possessed through the first two playoff rounds, playing through a recovering torn tricep muscle to rack up 30 tackles, tied for the most through the first two playoff rounds ever with Jonathan Vilma in 2004. However, the question lingers whether he and the rest of Baltimore’s defense will have enough gas left in the tank after playing a double OT game against the Broncos in nine-degree weather in the Mile High City just last Sunday.

This will be a very close game, and has all the makings of another all-timer. However, the Patriots offense is just too prolific to let this one slip away. Unless if Baltimore can lock down and bring a ton of pressure on Brady, they have no chance. I’m picking the Pats to 31-28. In other words, take the Ravens at +9; that’s a steal for a team that good.

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