Championship Sunday kicks off with the AFC Championship when the Baltimore Ravens travel to the Northeast to take on the New England Patriots. The game is scheduled for a 3:00pm start and it will be televised nationally on CBS. Currently the odds have the the Patriots favored anywhere from 7 to 9 points with the total sitting at 50.
Free Analysis: The Ravens dealt New England the worst playoff defeat of the abundantly- successful Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era in a 2009 AFC First-Round clash in Foxborough, utilizing a punishing running game and stifling defense to produce an emphatic 33-14 win that afternoon. Second-seeded Baltimore earned its third conference title game berth in franchise history and first since 2008 with this past Sunday's 20-13 ousting of AFC South champion Houston, with an opportunistic defensive display playing a major part of that outcome as well. The Ravens capitalized on four Texans' turnovers, with 17 of their 20 points coming directly off three Houston miscues. The final takeaway, an interception by veteran safety Ed Reed, thwarted a potential scoring attempt with the Texans down by seven points with under two minutes left. On the negative side, Baltimore mustered just 227 yards of offense and 11 first downs in advancing, numbers that head coach John Harbaugh knows must improve with the AFC's highest scoring team next on the docket. Baltimore called for a run on 54 of its 65 offensive plays in its stunning playoff win at Gillette Stadium two years ago, and figure to use a ground-heavy philosophy this week as well with the intention of keeping Brady and New England's allotment of playmakers stranded on the sidelines for as much time as possible. And considering the somewhat shaky performances that Flacco (3610 passing yards, 20 TD, 12 INT) has delivered in the postseason, such an approach seems to make further sense. The fourth-year quarterback possesses just a 53 percent completion rate, a 6-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a lackluster 66.2 passer rating in seven career playoff starts. Flacco however, is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons in the league, but he will need some help from his 10th ranked ground attack to get the job done here. Though the Ravens were held to 87 rushing yards by a stout Houston defense last Sunday, they averaged an impactful 181.6 yards per game on the ground over the final five weeks of the regular season and Rice (1364 rushing yards, 76 receptions, 15 total TD) surpassed the century mark in three of those tilts. The versatile back has also made his mark as a dynamic pass-catcher, placing second among players at the position in both catches and receiving yards (704) in addition to leading the entire NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,068) this year. Navigating a Baltimore stop unit that placed first overall in pass efficiency defense and yielded a league-low 11 touchdowns through the air during the regular season won't be easy, and Brady's been intercepted a total of five times in the last two encounters between these clubs. Expect New England's game plan to be far less conservative than that of Baltimore's, and for good reason. The Pats boast one of the game's all-time greats at the quarterback position in Brady (5235 passing yards, 39 TD, 12 INT), who generated the second-highest passing yardage total in league history this season and is now a sensational 15-5 as a playoff starter for his career. Following last weekend's six-score outburst, the star signal-caller has thrown 25 touchdown passes against just three interceptions over the course of his team's nine-game win streak and has surpassed the 300-yard mark in five straight outings as well. And the weapons he has. While sure-handed slot man Wes Welker (122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD), the NFL's leader in catches in 2011, usually serves as Brady's primary target, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (90 receptions, 1327 yards, 17 TD) has emerged as the most feared member of New England's deep collection of receivers and is coming off a monster night against the Broncos. The Patriots averaged 428.0 yards, second in the league, and their 32.1 points a contest were third. New England had an AFC-low 17 turnovers during the regular season, while its 65.3 touchdown percentage inside the red zone ranked second in the entire NFL. Getting consistent pressure will also be essential to protecting a vulnerable secondary that permitted a troublesome 293.9 passing yards per game during the regular season, the second-highest total in the league. The Patriots did come up with 23 interceptions over the 16-game schedule, however, with top cornerback Kyle Arrington (88 tackles, 7 INT, 13 PD) tying for the league lead in that category. New England did fare better in containing the pass during the latter stages of the season after some tinkering from Belichick. New England has dominated Baltimore in the regular season, winning all six meetings, while Brady has gone 4-1 against the Ravens including the playoff game. However, his 71.4 quarterback rating in those contests is his lowest against any team. Belichick has amassed a 15-5 playoff mark during his 12-year reign with the Patriots and is 16-6 in the postseason as a head coach, tied with Chuck Noll for fourth place on the NFL's all-time list for playoff wins.
Free Pick: In looking at this game originally I was saying to my self "Take the Under", but after further the review the call on the field has been reversed. This is pretty simple the more I look at it. Brady has not had the greatest of numbers vs the Ravens, but this is a team on a mission that is looking for payback from the humiliating loss they suffered in the 2009 playoffs at the hands of the Ravens, in a game that saw Brady and company booed off the field. The Ravens defense is very good and really looked good last week, but facing a rookie QB making a postseason start on the road is not the same thing as facing Brady and the 300 weapons he has, plus Baltimore has struggled at times with teams that throw the ball all over the field. Bottom line here is that Brady and this offense is clicking on all cylinders right now and The Ravens won't be able to hold this team down, while on offnese Baltimore will not be able to put up enough points to keep this one close. New England 34-14
Free Picks: Ravens and Patriots Bettinghttp://PregameVideos.com - Patriots facing a top 3 defense and Ravens have line value due last week shaky performance plus other factors NFL bettors need to know about Ravens and Patriots (Sunday, January 22, 2012) from Pregame.com - Including predictions from Bryan Leonard and analysis from host Scott Spreitzer.