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Saturday, January 19, 2013

AFC Conference Finals Preview

Wild on Sports

#4 Baltimore Ravens @ #2 New England Patriots
6:30pm CBS

In a rematch of last year's AFC title game, we once again get treated to what will surely be a hard fought battle. There are a number of excellent story lines at play here with the rematch of last season's AFC title game, Ray Lewis' impending retirement, a potential for a Harbaugh-bowl and a story of a team who is where everyone expected them to be while the other is riding destiny.

# 4 Baltimore Ravens:
How they got there: Wild Card Round - Defeated #5 Indianapolis Colts 24-9, Divisional Round - Defeated #1 Denver Broncos 38-35
Key Injuries:  The Ravens were plagued with injuries to key players during the regular season particularly on the defensive side of the ball where All-Pro's Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis missing the majority of the regular season. Both are back now and healthy. The only sticking injury seems to be to DL Haloti Ngata who is playing through the pain but does not seem to be himself out there.
Keys to Victory:  The best way to beat the Patriots is to keep the high powered offense off the field. Controlling the clock on the ground with the rushing attack led by Ray Rice. While the Pats defense has been pretty good against the run (2nd in NFL reg. season at 91.0 YDs/GM) is anyone is going to be able find a hole or two it will be the sneaky Ray Rice who at just 5'8" can hid behind his large offensive line. Perhaps the Patriots biggest defensive vulnerability is in the secondary (passing yds 4th worst in the NFL 271.4 YDs/GM). Joe Flacco has tremendous arm strength and showed last last week with a pair of bombs to Torry Smith. With that said, it may not be wise to get into a shootout against the #1 rated offense (Patriots) in the NFL.
Potential Ravens Storylines: A win would would extend the career of Ray Lewis for a final game and chance to go out with Superbowl glory. It would also set up the possibility of a Hargaugh Brothers match-up in the Super Bowl should San Francisco also win. The Ravens are having a bit of a Cinderella season as very few expected them to be here. Lewis himself has hinted to them being a "team of destiny" - a title that could prove evident with a victory on Sunday over a highly favored Patriots team.

#2 New England Patriots:
How the got there:  Wild Card Round - BYE, Divisional Round -  Defeated #3 Houston Texans 41-28
Key Injuries:  The Patriots suffered a huge loss last weekend when TE Rob Gonkowski re-broke his arm on a first quarter catch. Gronk arguably the best TE in the NFL and Tom Brady's favorite red-zone target. Also injured last week was RB Danny Woodhead who broke his hand on the first play of the game. Ridley and Vereen filled in admirably in his absence. Woodhead is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The Patriots are also without WR Julian Edleman who has missed the second half of season with a foot injury.
Keys to Victory:  The easiest way for the Patriots to win will be to score early and often. New England has the top rated scoring offense in the NFL. Getting into a shootout with the Ravens will force Joe Flacco and company to air it out where they are vulnerable to turnovers. The Ravens offensive line (notably Ngata) is banged up which could allow Ridley and Vereen to be effective.
Potential Patriots Storylines: A trip to the Super Bowl would give QB Tom Brady a chance to mark his place in history by doing what only Joe Montana has done before him: win a 4th Superbowl. The Patriots are also looking to make amends for an early season loss on a last second Ravens field goal that may or may not have actually split the uprights.

Click Here for NFC Conference Championship Preview 


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