2013 AFC Conference Championship Pick: Patriots over Ravens

Jake WestrichSenior Writer IJanuary 15, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots signals from the line of scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens  at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Aside from the "No one believes in us!" card, no sentiment is as universal in the football realm as the concept of revenge. It's proven to be an effective battle cry for teams, and with good reason. After all, nothing unites a group like the perception of avenging an unjust matter.

To a varying degree, each squad in this weekend's AFC Championship has retribution on its mind. The obvious lies in Baltimore's corner, as the Ravens return to the scene of last season's demise. Kicker Billy Cundiff's errant field-goal attempt in the closing seconds of last year's conference championship cost his lineup a shot at victory in overtime, sending coach John Harbaugh and company home in heartbreaking fashion. Now armed with a new lights-out leg, the Ravens are a band fueled by reprisal.

Yet New England's shortcoming in Super Bowl XLVI has the Patriots attending to unfinished business, as well. With a ticket to the Big Easy on the line, this payback-fueled soiree serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.

For a man making his third AFC Championship appearance in just his fifth season in the league, Joe Flacco sure receives his fair share of flak from the media, fans and even his own franchise, who failed to bestow a contract extension on their former first-round pick heading into the fall. Though the spotlight remains on the Broncos' collapse in last weekend's Divisional Round tilt, the Baltimore signal caller alleviated a hearty contingent of this criticism with his performance in Mile High, throwing for over 330 yards and three scores in his crew's epic comeback. With his arrival on the free agency market imminent, Flacco is playing with a chip on his shoulder, demonstrating that he warrants mention among the league's top play-callers.

Competing with this truculence is not a foreign concept to the Baltimore defense, historically one of the best and baddest units in the AFC. However, the 2012 resistance has deviated from this reputation, ranking in the middle of the pack in most relevant categories.

In their, ahem, "defense," extended absences from stars Lardarius Webb, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs correlated to this subpar showing, but for a team that prides itself on obstructing adversarial offenses, Baltimore has not lived up to their billing. The Ravens will need to elevate their combativeness if they aspire to play into February, for halting the vaunted Patriots attack is a difficult endeavor for even the strongest defense.

Not that Tom Brady and the New England offense are without their woes. Tight end Rob Gronkowski will be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs after re-fracturing his forearm versus the Texans last week, subtracting one of the most effective red-zone targets in the league from their aerial assault. And while the Week 3 matchup between these teams was worked by replacement officials and thus led to a penalty-filled chaotic display, it bears mentioning that the Ravens held the Pats to just 2.3 yards per carry on 34 rushing attempts.

Luckily for fans in Foxborough, Brady has been in this situation a time or two, with last weekend's conquest giving the Michigan product the most playoff wins in NFL history. Though Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and rookies Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson garnered most of the quarterback attention this season, there's no field general an offense would rather have at the helm in this atmosphere than the venerable Brady.

So who emerges on top in this conference-championship rematch? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com football simulation engine, the Patriots claim victory 62.3 percent of the time by an average margin of 24-21.

AFC Conference Championship: Ravens at Patriots
MatchupWin%Avg ScoreWIS Interactive
Baltimore Ravens37.721Boxscore
@ New England Patriots62.324Simulate Game

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