Patriots-Ravens rivalry set for its latest chapter

The number of times the Ravens and Patriots have faced each other over the last five years, it would be strange if they weren't familiar with each other or if there wasn't some small amount of animosity.

New England has become like an honorary member of the AFC North to Baltimore after six meetings since 2009, including three playoff games, two of which were AFC championships. That's an awful lot of meaningful football played by the two non-divisional foes, and the quality of the games have measured up.

The Ravens and Patriots have split their last six meetings with four being decided by six points or fewer and three settled by three or fewer. The only two lopsided wins were Ravens victories in the playoffs.

Here's a quick look at the series' recent history:

10/4/09 at NE - Patriots 27, Ravens 21
1/10/10 at NE - Ravens 33, Patriots 14 (wild card playoff)
10/17/10 at NE - Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (OT)
1/22/12 at NE - Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (AFC championship)
9/23/12 at Bal - Ravens 31, Patriots 30
1/20/13 at NE - Ravens 28, Patriots 13 (AFC championship)

That's one heck of a series and considering the fact that the teams have met in two of the last three conference title matchups, if it isn't a rivalry yet, it sure is brewing.

"They've been great games. It's always a big challenge playing the Patriots. They are very, very well-coached - that goes without saying - across the board," coach John Harbaugh said. "Starting with coach (Bill) Belichick and right through the staff, they do a great job. And then they have great players, probably starting with Tom Brady, the consummate NFL quarterback. But they have good players at every position. They always do. They know how to play the game the right way. They don't beat themselves. And that's the kind of game we anticipate against the Patriots."

Quarterback Joe Flacco believes Pats-Ravens games have become more than garden-variety and he's excited to face New England again.

"Let's put it this way: They are definitely almost like a division opponent," he said. "Since I've been here, we've played them (often). Even early in my career, we've played them most of the years and in the playoffs. And we've both been good teams and vying for playoff spots and trying to win playoff games against each other. They have got the better of us, and we have got the better of them a few times. It's a game that has been consistent and been pretty good over the last few years, and we definitely have a bit of a familiarity with them."

Much is riding on this game, as both teams have a chance to clinch a playoff berth Sunday.

But there always seems to be something on the line when the two teams play. They both look quite different from recent years, especially on the Ravens' side, as this will mark the first time the Pats play Baltimore without going up against both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Belichick acknowledged it is a little strange planning for the Ravens without those two future Hall of Famers.

"A little bit. It does look a little bit different without those guys," Belichick said. "The Ravens have a lot of young players on their roster, and they have a lot of them playing well. I think that Ozzie (Newsome), his staff, coach Harbaugh, the entire organization, Steve (Bisciotti) - all of them - have done a great job of putting their football team together. It's a lot of players that are not on the team from last year, but there's plenty of guys that were, and then there's some new players that have done a good job of stepping up."

Even with the different personnel, the importance of the games makes Harbaugh refer to the series as a rivalry.

"To me, rivalries - to use that term - are defined by how important the games are and what is at stake and how good the games are," he said. "So, just what you said is right. They have always been big games, and fortunately, we have both been in the hunt all those years, so there has been a lot riding on it - this year as much as ever. So it's a big game for us for that reason. But, without looking back too much, it's all been great, but it's all history now. It really doesn't have that much of a bearing - even gameplan-wise - on this game. This game stands alone, and this is really the only one we are thinking about."