Ravens vs. Patriots: New England Will End Baltimore's Improbable Playoff Run

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

The Patriots and Ravens will face off again in the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots and Ravens will face off again in the AFC Championship Game.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New England Patriots will bring the Baltimore Ravens back to reality this Sunday, halting an unexpected surge en route to their second straight Super Bowl appearance.

Yet again, a ticket to the Super Bowl hangs in the balance with the Patriots and Ravens left standing to fight for it.

Baltimore surely does not need a reminder of how painstakingly close it came to topping New England last year. If Lee Evans holds on for one more second, Baltimore goes to the Super Bowl. If Billy Cundiff hits a chip-shot field goal, Baltimore goes to the Super Bowl.

Well, neither happened, but the Ravens can avenge the heartbreaking defeat by sending the Pats home this time. A past precedent suggests that it's possible, but the numbers say you shouldn't count on it.

New England fans might feel a bit uneasy thinking that they've lived through this story before.

In 2007, the Patriots battled a young, inconsistent quarterback trying to prove he belonged. Whispers ensued that his team should find a new signal-caller, but a dynamite postseason run put those cries to rest.

On the defensive side, Tom Brady squared off with a future Hall of Famer hoping to exit on the brightest note possible. 

Is Joe Flacco undergoing his Eli Manning postseason? Can Ray Lewis leave the NFL in similar circumstances as Michael Strahan?

So far, Flacco has played well enough to incite that dirty "E" word always associated with quarterbacks. In two games, he's thrown for 613 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions.

A win propels Flacco's postseason to legendary status. If his team beats Peyton Manning and Brady, he'll get a massive payday and steal all the limelight Eli earned last season.

But it probably won't happen, and it won't be Flacco's fault.

With the Broncos out of the picture, the Patriots are the overwhelming favorite to return to the Super Bowl, as they should be. This is the club with the highest-scoring offense in football, scoring a league-high 34.8 points per game during the regular season.

How will a defense that ranked 17th in the NFL with 350.9 yards allowed per game fare against Brady and Co.? Probably not well, as this offense amassed 427.9 yards per contest throughout the season.

Think of how easily Baltimore could have lost to the Denver Broncos. Not that it's their fault that Rahim Moore made a colossal error in coverage or that John Fox's ultra-conservative coaching led him to take the ball out of Peyton Manning's hand.

But there's no chance Bill Belichick is playing for overtime if Brady has 30 seconds left to score. Brady's also a lot less likely to toss a deflating pick in overtime.

New England is too smart give a game away; Baltimore will have to thoroughly earn it.

Last week's epic victory over Denver is the type of game that will cause prisoners of the moment to declare Baltimore as a "team of destiny." Just like the Seattle Seahawks were destined to go all the way after Russell Wilson engineered a drive to give them a lead late in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Seahawks are still in the playoffs, right?

Go ahead and take the team of destiny, but the better team is the safer bet. The Ravens' wild ride should end this weekend with the Patriots securing their sixth AFC title during the Brady/Belichick era.