Last Sunday, the Ravens got the job done at home, beating the Texans to advance to the AFC championship game. This Sunday, they'll need to earn a playoff win on the road, just like they've already done four times in John Harbaugh's tenure as head coach.
The Ravens will travel to New England this weekend to face the high-powered Patriots for a spot in the Super Bowl. For just the second time all season, Baltimore will be the underdogs, and few will expect them to come away with a win over the conference's top seed.
But all that stands in the way of an AFC title is 60 minutes of solid football. If the Ravens can deliver that, they'll be on their way to Indianapolis.
Here's how these two teams match up going into this weekend's game (stats below are from the regular season):
Ravens: 338.7 yards per game (15th)
Patriots: 428.0 yards per game (2nd)
Ravens: 124.8 ypg (10th)
Patriots: 110.3 ypg (20th)
Ravens: 213.9 ypg (19th)
Patriots: 317.8 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 288.9 ypg (3rd)
Patriots: 411.1 ypg (31st)
Ravens: 92.6 ypg (2nd)
Patriots: 117.1 ypg (17th)
Ravens: 196.3 ypg (4th)
Patriots: 293.9 ypg (31st)
Ravens: +2 (t-11th)
Patriots: +17 (3rd)
Ravens: 742 (4th-fewest)
Patriots: 815 (11th-fewest)
Boy, do the contrasting styles between these two teams just reach out and smack you in the face when you look at these numbers, or what? In some ways, it's almost like the Ravens and Patriots are inverted versions of one another.
New England has a dominant offensive attack which is carried by an aerial assault, while Baltimore's offense is middle of the pack but is focused on the running game. The Ravens have an elite defense which often keeps them in games, while the Pats' defense has been less than stellar and is susceptible to big plays. Both teams have won often this season, but the Pats seem to consistently blow out their opposition, while the Ravens often do just enough to emerge victorious.
The most obvious difference between these two AFC powers is at the quarterback position. Tom Brady is already a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer and can make even the best defenses look silly with his ability to move the Pats' offense and put the ball wherever he wants it. Brady has a host of dangerous offensive weapons at his disposal, including wide receivers Wes Welker (who was second in the NFL in receiving yards this season) and Deion Branch, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The tight ends might be the toughest matchup for the Ravens because of their size and athleticism, and if Baltimore isn't careful, Gronkowski and Hernandez could take over the game and make this whole experience very unpleasant for the guys in purple and black. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will likely bracket Gronkowski with two defenders as often as possible, trying to limit the big plays he's made seemingly every single week.
The Patriots' defensive numbers aren't exceptional by any means (they allowed the most first downs and plays of 20-plus yards of any team in the league), but they also do a great job of forcing turnovers. Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Arrington leads the charge there, as he racked up seven interceptions this season, the most in the league. New England recorded 40 sacks on the season, but they lost their top pass rusher in Andre Carter for the season due to injury, limiting their explosiveness up front.
While the potential is certainly there for things to get out of hand in a hurry if the Ravens don't take care of the football and force Brady out of his comfort zone, for some reason, I just have a gut feeling the Ravens will pull this one out.
They've proven they can get pressure on Brady in the past. They've shown they can run the ball effectively on New England's defense and win in a hostile, chilly playoff environment.
Yes, the Patriots are riding a nine-game winning streak and are racking up the points every time out, while Joe Flacco and company aren't exactly playing their best ball going into Sunday. I can understand why Vegas has the Patriots a 7.5-point favorite and why many fans and media members are picking New England to advance to the Super Bowl.
I just have a hunch that Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and, yes, Flacco will make enough plays to carry the Ravens to a victory. I'm stepping out on to a limb here, but put me down for a 28-24 Baltimore win.
Now it's your turn. Are you joining me on the bandwagon? Do you think this Ravens team has what it takes to pick up the road win and move on to Indy, or do you see their season coming to an end in Foxborough?
Who you got?