The AFC Championship game features the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens for the second straight season. Will the game once again send the AFC East Patriots to the title game, or will the AFC North Ravens continue the Ray Lewis Farewell Ride in the Super Bowl?
The Patriots and Ravens have faced each other six times over the past six years, including earlier this season, and last year's AFC Championship. Over that stretch, the Patriots have come out on top four times, despite five of the six games being decided by six points or less. The Ravens and Patriots have butted heads three times in the last four postseason tournaments.
The story of the game may well be Ray Lewis, who has announced this will be his last season in the NFL. The last of the original Ravens, Lewis' announcement, and return from a torn triceps muscle, has allowed the fourth seeded Ravens to upset the first seeded Denver Broncos last week, despite being 9-1/2 point underdogs. Will it be enough this week to move the Ravens past the second seeded Patriots and into the Super Bowl?
Can the Ravens shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense? Do they have to shut it down? According to SB Nation's Baltimore Beatdown, maybe they don't.
Now [the Ravens] are facing the NFL's highest scoring team which is averaging 35 points a game. Baltimore's defense will have tough time shutting down New England, but should be at least able to slow them down enough to give Joe Flacco and the offense the same chance to put at least one more point on the scoreboard than the Pats.
However, SB Nation's Pats Pulpit sees the game going a completely different way:
They are are as evenly matched as it gets but on this occasion, the Pats have the slight upper hand. Despite being outplayed by Flacco more than once head-to-head, Brady has the upper hand at QB. And this year, unlike in so many instances before, the Pats are at an advantage on defense as well. As well as the Ravens have played on that side of the ball lately, their collective age and mileage will be too much for them to overcome on Sunday and that would be the case even if they hadn't just played five-plus quarters in the altitude of Denver last weekend. The Pats are too diverse on offense for this edition of the Ravens' once vaunted D to keep up, regardless of how inspired that group is by Lewis' impending retirement. It will be close, as nearly every game between these two teams is. But the Pats will prevail and return to the site of their first glory for their sixth Super Bowl in 12 years.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it should be an entertaining game. And, one good thing should happen as soon as the contest concludes - Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito should be named to the Pro Bowl.