Belichick: Ravens are well-coached in all phases of the game
The Ravens have been here before. One year earlier, in fact: Foxboro, Massachusetts, a spot in the Super Bowl on the line. Can the Ravens finally achieve what eluded them so narrowly and so painfully last season? Can they ride the emotion of Ray Lewis' farewell tour and their wild overtime win last week in Denver to another Super Bowl?
Here is how some of the national media see the game:
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Ravens 24
In September, I picked the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl. So how can I pick against them in the game that would put them there? ... I’m tempted to pick the Ravens; it just feels like it’s time for them to get back to the Super Bowl, and I’d love to see a Harbaugh-vs.-Harbaugh battle for the NFL title. But it also feels like it’s time for the Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. ... The Pats hold serve and head back to the site of their first Super Bowl win."
Elliott Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 30, Ravens 24
"Both conference champions get to 30 on Sunday. That doesn't mean the Ravens will have a bad day defensively; it's more a recognition of how the Patriots are able to run 70 plays with no problem. Their high-octane offense will be a little much for some of the 30-somethings on Dean Pees' Ravens defense. ...
A big turnover or two in the first half can turn this into the Ravens' perfect scenario: get an easy score off a takeaway, run Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce 35 times and unleash the deep balls that Flacco delivers nicely off play action. New England gave up 74 passes of 20-plus yards this season. Guess what? That was the most in the NFL, 14 more than the next-closest team (Miami). ...
Offensively, I anticipate the Patriots will run the football. ... Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will exercise the running option without slowing the game down. No catching of breath, Ray Lewis.
That's where I think this AFC championship will reside: in the bellies of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Brady makes his money off free plays against an unsettled, sick-of-the-hurry-up defense, and the Pats win."
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Ravens 33, Patriots 30
The Ravens are armed with quarterback Joe Flacco, who sizzled in the playoffs over two seasons and has the confidence of having outplayed Brady in the teams' past two games. The Ravens have won at Foxborough in the 2009 season's playoffs with their current core and know they were right there in last season's 23-20 loss in the AFC title game.
Baltimore must come out firing with a diverse offense. Expect Flacco to be let loose to get the ball downfield to his three best playmakers — Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. That will open up opportunities for Ray Rice out of the backfield. ...
The Patriots proved again last week that nothing fazes their offense. ... Brady used Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen to pick apart Houston. The Texans didn't attack enough to match them, something the Ravens will do. Baltimore's defense also has more impact players who can produce a key stop, sack or turnover.
Much of the playoff attention on Baltimore has been on the impending retirement of Ray Lewis. But it's been a whole lot of other players, led by Flacco and Rice, paving the way for their surprising run. They have at least one more upset in them."
Peter King, SI.com: Patriots 31, Ravens 26
The last three times these two teams have met, New England has won two and outscored Baltimore 76-71. Imagine, for a moment, if Lee Evans had hung onto the pass in the end zone for the winning touchdown of the AFC championship Game last year in Foxboro. The difference? Baltimore 2 wins, New England 1. Baltimore 78, New England 76. ...
As much of a favorite as New England seems heading into the late game Sunday, I think it's smart to hold your horses. One, Baltimore has some tremendous mojo going. ... Two, the Baltimore defense has come alive, and it's not all because of Ray (17 tackles in Denver) Lewis' return. It's about Paul Kruger coming to life and becoming a dangerous rusher, and about Corey Graham, who did not play a single snap on defense in Baltimore's 31-30 September comeback win over the Patriots, becoming a tremendous defensive force in the last half-season. ...
This will be a great game, though, the second straight weekend the league will produce an instant classic involving the Ravens."
Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: Patriots 31, Ravens 28
"Quarterback Joe Flacco has done a great job. He has been poised, calm and accurate. He lit up the Broncos last week. Flacco should have some shots down the field here with Torrey Smith against a New England team that finished 29th against the pass this season. The key the past couple of weeks for the Ravens has been their offensive line. They have done a great job in protection. The defense did a nice job of creating turnovers against Peyton Manning. They have to do the same thing to the Patriots to win this game.
But the Patriots don't turn it over much. Tom Brady is so good at finding the mismatches in the secondary that he rarely makes the big mistake. And he's got a great feel for avoiding pressure in the pocket.
Brady will get his big plays against a Ravens defense that isn't quite what it has been in the past. .... The Ravens lost a close one last year in the AFC championship game to the Patriots and I think this one will follow suit."
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports.com: Ravens 34, Patriots 30
New England’s firing on all cylinders right now and the shaky first-half efforts against the 49ers and Jaguars in consecutive weeks seem like they occurred forever ago.
But I like the Ravens on Sunday.
I’ve been riding the Ray Lewis Express since it announced it was leaving the station and I’m not getting off of it now. Ray Lewis factor aside (and yes, if you've been in that locker room, you know that's a real thing and not the media creation some have suggested), I also think the Ravens match up better with the Patriots than the Broncos, the Texans or even the 49ers did. Torrey Smith presents the type of deep pass-catching receiver that gives New England's defensive backfield fits. ...In addition to Smith, Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin could present problems for the New England secondary. Toss in a pass rush that got to Peyton Manning surprisingly often last week and I like this matchup for Baltimore.
We know, for certain, that the Ravens won’t be scared or intimidated by the bright lights and the Foxboro mystique. Unlike the Texans — with all their swagger and false bravado — the Ravens have actually won big games like this. They’ve been through the battles. They’ve lost some; they’ve won some. Either way, they’ve played in them. They've been there.
The cannons in Foxboro aren’t going to psyche them out. They're as loose as can be. Double-digit underdogs for the second straight week, they've got nothing to lose. All they've got to do is play their brand of football.
Poke holes in my reasoning all you want. I took the Ravens last week against the Broncos and you all called me a fool. I’ve also taken the Giants in not one, but two Super Bowls over the Patriots in the past five years and you’ve all called me a fool those times, too.
I don't pick against New England often, but when I do, I tend to have a pretty fair success rate."
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Ravens 20
"The Ravens have typically played well against the Patriots, including in a 31-30 Week Three win. In that game, Joe Flacco had 382 passing yards, Torrey Smith had 127 receiving yards and Ray Rice had 101 rushing yards, and I think the Ravens will need that kind of offensive performance if they’re going to have any hope of winning. ...
Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Patriots’ defense is playing better now than it was early in the regular season, and that’s going to be the difference this time. Flacco won’t have the same kind of passing game in the regular season, but Tom Brady will have another big performance against the Ravens’ secondary. The Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl."