It is hard to say that any football game will be bigger than the Super Bowl, but the upcoming AFC Championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots comes close. This is the biggest game of the year so far, and fans will be tuning in by the droves to see what should prove to be one of the most exciting games of the season. Here are some of the storylines for fans to keep in mind as they watch this epic AFC Championship tilt.
Time for a Rematch
This is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, which they Patriots narrowly won 23-20. The Patriots trailed for much of last year’s game, but a Tom Brady touchdown was enough to get them over the goal line. The Ravens nearly sent the game into overtime, but since-released kicker Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal that is a chip shot for mot NFL kickers. The Patriots went on to the Super Bowl, where they ended up losing to the New York Giants.
This time around, the Ravens want to get their revenge. They are riding high after winning their game last week against the Denver Broncos. The Ravens trailed for much of that game, but a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones tied the game. The Ravens managed to pull out an instant classic in double overtime.
The Patriots won a much easier contest last week against the Houston Texans. The Patriots were never really threatened by the Texans, and they ended up winning the game by double digits. They are on a roll, having blown out many of their recent opponents with their explosive offense.
The Ravens have not been very smart in the week leading up to this game. They have provided motivational fodder for the Patriots’ coaching staff to put up on the bulletin board. One of their linebackers, Brendon Ayanbadejo, trashed the Patriots on Twitter, saying that their hurry-up offense is a “gimmick.” He also said some other things about them that aren’t fit for print.
In addition, Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin has stated categorically, “We’re going to win.” While it is not bad to have confidence, saying these kinds of thing will only motivate the opponent. In the case of the Patriots, that is like throwing gasoline on a forest fire.
Patriots Heavily Favored
The oddsmakers have installed New England as nine-point favorites in the AFC Championship Game, which means that the Ravens have their work cut out for them. However, the Ravens were also nine-point underdogs in their victory against Denver last week, so they seem to relish the role of underdogs.
Having said that, don’t look for Baltimore to pull another big upset this weekend. For one thing, they are most likely in for a bit of an emotional letdown after all the drama of last week’s double-overtime game. For another thing, the only reason they won last week was because Denver played very foolishly on defense, allowing the Ravens to complete multiple long bombs in the passing game.
The Patriots are much smarter than that. Their defense will play deep, forcing Joe Flacco to find holes in the coverage and throw across the middle. This is when he makes mistakes. Add in the home-field advantage and the explosive New England offense, and all the ingredients are there for a Patriots blowout victory.