By Jason Fleck
Championship week has arrived in the NFL and after an extremely exciting divisional weekend what else can we expect from this year’s NFL playoffs? Well the excitement is far from over. Four teams remain and will look to pull out all the stops for what seems to most like a once in a lifetime opportunity to play for the grand prize, the Lombardi Trophy. Most only dream for the chance to play in the Super Bowl and even some of the greats never got that opportunity. This time of the year it is win or go home and so much is on the line. It isn’t good enough to just make it this far. The teams that lose will be forgotten while the victorious will meet in the promise land, New Orleans.
This year’s AFC Championship is a rematch of last year’s exciting AFC Championship Game. The storylines are endless. One of the greatest quarterbacks to the play the game, Tom Brady, against one of the greatest linebackers, Ray Lewis in his swansong season. They have been there before and have captured that prize that has eluded so many others. The dynasty of the Patriots will face up against the Ravens legendary, but aging defense. Both teams are familiar with this situation with the Patriots making their seventh appearance in the AFC Championship in eleven years, while the Ravens are making their fourth appearance in eleven years. The history between these two teams is phenomenal, just look at their last two matchups and you will get a good idea of how evenly matched they have been both times coming down to the wire. It could have gone either way both times.
Let’s look back to last year’s championship and remember just how it went down. Ask any of the Ravens players and I guarantee they have vivid images of what went down last year. Literally one dropped pass or I guess you could say great defensive play from a Super Bowl appearance. The pass that I am referring to is the pass from Joe Flacco to Lee Evans in the corner of the end zone that was dislodged by Sterling Moore at the very last second. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal chance by Billy Cundiff to force overtime, but it sailed wide left and that was all she wrote. The Ravens fell 23-20 and are still reminded of that game. The only way to get past that is to avenge that painful loss this time around.
Tom Brady is now in the conversation with the likes of Joe Montana, just after he passed Montana for most playoff wins. He will be without star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, but that didn’t seem to bother him as he led his team to an easy win against the Texans. He was helped as his two inexperienced running backs Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley had the biggest games of their careers. They combined for four touchdowns on 96 yards receiving and 123 yards rushing. Their offense looked unstoppable against the Texans defense. New England has so many weapons on the offensive side of the ball and to beat them is a daunting task. Take a down off and they make you pay that quickly.
If any defense is up to the task of at least slowing down that potent offense, it is the Ravens defense. They are a team that has always relied on their defense to keep them in games and this game will be no different. In the past few years their offense has taken some of that pressure off the defense. With an offense featuring Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Anquan Boldin, and Dennis Pitta; they are just as potent.
This game is bound to be a back and forth, high scoring affair in which each defensive stop will be extremely huge. Whichever defense that can figure out a way to stop the other team’s offensive and find a way to force turnovers will guide their team to the win. Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes and can predict the other teams moves has the best chance to win.
Can Tom Brady strengthen his bid to be the greatest or will Ray Lewis keep his chance of winning a ring in his final year alive? Every question will be answered. Don’t miss this one. My prediction: New England 24 – Baltimore 20
Watch It: Sun. Jan. 20 – 5:30PM / CBS