The day has finally come, AFC Championship day as the Baltimore Ravens are in Foxboro for a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game with the New England Patriots. After upsetting the Denver Broncos last week, Baltimore is once again a big underdog today, but don't ask the Ravens if they care.
As is the case in any game, there are some key matchups to watch for that will ultimately determine the outcome of the game.
- Kelechi Osemele v Vince Wilfork - Osemele will have the tough task of keeping Patriots DT Vince Wilfork at bay this evening. Wilfork had a monster game against the Ravens in last year's AFC Championship game, and Kelechi's ability to keep Wilfork from having a big day will be huge in the running game, as well as the passing game as he could keep the pocket intact and allow Joe Flacco some time to throw the ball downfield.
- Torrey Smith v Aqib Talib – After last week's performance against a sure fire hall of famer in Champ Bailey, where Smith made Champ look old beating him multiple times and forcing Denver to give Bailey help in coverage, Smith will have to have another big day today against Talib. Before last week, I wasn't sure if Talib would be on Anquan Boldin or Smith, but after last week, I believe there is no question New England's best cornerback will have to be on Smith. If Torrey can beat Talib deep a couple times, it could open the middle of the field up for Boldin and Dennis Pitta.
- Ravens pass rushers v Patriots pass blockers – Baltimore's ability to put pressure on Tom Brady and make him move his feet is going to be hugely instrumental in this football game. Brady, much like most pocket passers, does not like to have to throw on the run and when he does that is when he makes mistakes. If Paul Kruger, Terrell Suggs and company can knock Brady in the mouth a few times early, it could bode very well for the Ravens secondary and a chance for an interception or two.
- Baltimore Special Teams v New England Special Teams – Before last week's game, Baltimore's special teams unit had been the shining star of the group, being one of the best in the league, but last week the Ravens special teams allowed a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns after not allowing one all season. Baltimore will have to return to form on special teams if they want to have a chance to win this game, and Jacoby Jones' ability to give the Ravens offense short fields to work with will also be a big factor in the game.
- Joe Flacco v "The Big One" – Although I personally believe Flacco is a big game quarterback and has nothing to prove, the National media and Ravens fans alike feel that Joe has to prove he can win the big one. I do understand their reasoning, but cmon, this man has now been to the AFC Championship three times in his five years in the league, I believe he had to win some pretty big games to do that. Having said that, Flacco and the Ravens will need to win the game to stay away from being labeled as the next Buffalo Bills or Philadelphia Eagles as teams that are good, but never good enough. I expect Flacco to play very well today, much like he did last year where he easily outplayed his counterpart in Brady.
I hope Baltimore fans realize how lucky they are to be in this situation today, I mean how often do fans of a professional sports teams get to watch their team in the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, and see their team within one game of the Championship? Life is good for a Ravens fan and I am predicting it is going to be even better as I am picking the Ravens to win this football game 31-28 on a Justin Tucker game winner as time expires and Baltimore will be heading to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans!
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