The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Championship Game rematch Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

While these two teams are not in the same division, they are by no means strangers and have had several hard fought games in the past few seasons. This Sunday will be no different as the two square off for a chance to represent the AFC conference in the Super Bowl.

The first contest was on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore as the Ravens defeated the Patriots 31 – 30 on a game-winning field goal as time expired. A lot has changed in the nearly four months since the matchup at the beginning of the NFL season for both teams.

In preparation for this week’s rematch, I broke down the game film and looked for key differences, interesting notes and other statistics relevant to the upcoming title game Sunday afternoon. –

Recap:

Week 3 Final Score: Ravens 31, Patriots 30

Key Inactives for both teams:

Patriots - TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), RB Shane Vereen (foot), CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring)

Ravens - No key Inactives, but Terrell Suggs was not on the active roster (Achilles)

 

Game Notes:

– Emotional game for the Ravens: This was the day Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith’s brother died and the atmosphere was very intense. The crowd was rocking; very similar to a European soccer match the way the crowd was chanting. Also, it was Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh’s 50th birthday. The atmosphere was huge for Baltimore.

– Replacement Referees: No penalty flags early, which was surprising because of all the scuffles after the whistle. Patriots guard Logan Mankins was involved in several skirmishes, but the refs seemed to hesitate on calling penalties early. The first flag was called on the Pats 10 minutes into the game on a punt return.

– Pats Aerial Attack: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was not a factor in the passing game, as he finished with just two catches for 21 yards. New England receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd had huge games. Welker finished with 8 receptions for 142 yards, while Lloyd had 9 for 108.

– No Pressure: The Pats defense did not sack Baltimore once throughout the game. It looked like Chandler Jones was held on several plays by tackle Michael Oher and defensive end Rob Ninkovich was close, but did not get there. Ravens QB Joe Flacco had too much time to throw, allowing him to complete throws down field.

The Ravens sacked Tom Brady twice in the game, although some were called back by defensive penalties.

 

– Big Pass Plays An Issue For The Pats Secondary: The Ravens got downfield in the contest. Five players had plays of 20 yards or more.


Devin McCourty’s transition to safety is one reason why the Patriots defense is much improved in this AFC Championship game rematch. (FILE:USPresswire)

Torrey Smith: 6/127

Anquan Boldin: 4/48

Jacoby Jones: 3/86

Dennis Pitta: 5/50

Ray Rice: 5/49

 

– Halftime Adjustments Made: Both teams scored a TD on their second half opening possessions. In fact, the offenses made it look easy.

– Too Much Rice: Ravens running back Ray Rice had 20 attempts, 101 yards and a touchdown in the game. He also had 49 receiving yards on 5 receptions; a lot of plays called back on penalties, too. The tailback was dominant and allowed Baltimore to do a lot offensively.

– Offensive Showcase: A whopping 899 yards of total offense by both teams in this game. Ravens went over 500 (503).

 

– Weak Ground Attack: The Patriots rushing attack was almost a complete nonfactor. Only 77 yards on 34 rushing plays, which is a measly 2.3 yards per attempt; Brady led the team with an average rush of 3.5 yards to put that in perspective. Running backs Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden all carried the ball.

– More Flags?: Going back to the officials, cannot underestimate how big of a debacle this game was from a referee standpoint. Between this game and the Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks incident the night before, it is no surprise this was the last week run by the replacement officials.

The Patriots had 10 penalties of 83 yards, while Baltimore had 14 penalties of 135 yards. So many questionable calls and calls that should have been made, but weren’t. Overall, the refs had too much of an impact on this game.

– Patriots Meltdown: Patriots lead 30, Baltimore 21 with a little over 14 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Ravens scored 10 unanswered to win the game (scored a TD at 4:08 and game winning FG as time expired).

 

What Patriots Adjustments Need To Be Made:

Defensive Backs: New England has made major changes in their secondary, none bigger than the midseason trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Three rookies at prominent positions – Alfonzo Dennard (CB), Dont’a Hightower (LB) and Chandler Jones (DE) – have 14 more games of experience at the NFL level. With the addition of Talib, shuffling of personal such as Devin McCourty to safety and overall improved play on the defensive side of the ball, the Pats are much more aggressive. The team will need to find a balance of aggression and discipline in pass defense in order to play a good game.


Patriots running back Shane Vereen should prove to be a huge factor in New England’s offense versus the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon. (FILE:USPresswire)

Vereen, Lloyd and Hernandez Need To Step Up: With Rob Gronkowski out for the remainder of the post-season, other players on offense need to step up. Hernandez, who was not active in the week three matchup, will need to have another solid game in his absence. I expect the Ravens to pay Welker plenty of attention, so Lloyd will need to win the one-on-one battles he will most likely be given for the team to move the ball down field regularly. The biggest mis-match I see favoring the Patriots is running back Shane Vereen. With Baltimore’s linebackers not as athletic as they once were, I expect Vereen to have a huge game Sunday afternoon. He could be the difference in a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Pressure On Flacco Key: Flacco may not be a top ten QB in the NFL, but he does throw the ball downfield extremely well and the Ravens offense has the weapons to make big plays through the air. In order to prohibit these plays from occurring, New England’s pass rush should prove to be a big factor in this game’s outcome. Chandler Jones, who limped off the field last Sunday, will need to join the rest of the Patriots front seven in getting pressure on Flacco and potentially force turnovers.

Fight Back: We all know the Baltimore Ravens are not afraid to get in a dog fight. It’s why this contest will be more difficult than last week’s game versus the Houston Texans. The biggest difference between the two franchises? Mentality. Baltimore has a “we are better than you” attitude. Tough, physical and won’t lay down if New England goes up early. The Pats have had problems closing out teams in the past, but they cannot make the same mistake against this Ravens team which is relishing the fact to get revenge from last season’s AFC Championship Game loss.

 

Prediction:

Overall, this game should prove to be a great contest from start to finish and I expect big plays from both sides. I envision the Patriots taking a lead in the late second, early third quarter and having to fight off a late push by the Ravens. Emotions will be high, atmosphere will be intense and it should be a relatively close game.

Patriots 27, Ravens 20

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