In game that few people expected them to be a part of, the Baltimore Ravens enter Sunday as nine-point underdogs to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. However, the Ravens and fifth-year Quarterback Joe Flacco weren’t phased by similar circumstance last week, when they went into Denver and pulled out a double overtime victory over the Broncos. Can they do it again? Here are a few storylines to follow heading into Sunday’s AFC showdown:
1) Oh, You Again
The Pats and Ravens are very familiar with each other, as Sunday’s game will make it their second straight meeting in the AFC Championship game and third playoff contest in the past four years. Although New England is virtually unbeatable at home in the playoffs, Baltimore blew them out 33-14 in 2009 and narrowly lost 20-23 after Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Clearly, the Ravens aren’t afraid of heading into Foxborough.
2) Matchup to Watch: Aqib Talib vs. Torrey Smith
Plenty will be made of the chess match between QB Tom Brady and LB Ray Lewis in this game, and rightfully so. However, a matchup that may be more intriguing will be between Pats’ corner Aqib Talif and Ravens’ wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith burnt New England for 126 yards and two touchdowns when the two teams met earlier this season, and hauled in another two last week with veteran corner Champ Bailey covering him. However, Talib, who New England acquired from Tampa Bay midseason, has brought some swagger to the Patriot defense with his fiery attitude and physical style of play. Can he contain Smith? The answer to that may determine this game’s outcome.
3) Can Joe Flacco Win the Big One?
Flacco’s been heavily critiqued over the past several years, as many people in the sports world have begun to wonder whether or not he has what it takes to win a championship, despite the fact that he is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. After last week’s victory in Denver in which Flacco threw three touchdowns and outplayed four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, people had better start acknowledging his abilities. However, out-dueling Tom Brady in Foxborough is never easy, even if Flacco has done it before.
Although Baltimore is no pushover and will give the Pats all they can handle, New England just has too many weapons on the offensive side, even with Rob Gronkowski out with a broken forearm. With Tom Brady playing like well, Tom Brady, and their defense playing its best football of the year, New England will make enough plays to defeat Joe Flacco and the Ravens.