Following an amazing throw by Joe Flacco and an improbable comeback in overtime by Baltimore, the Ravens now will face off against the New England Patriots for the second time in two seasons in the AFC Championship game in Foxborough on Sunday.
"I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said to the Associated Press. "If we go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough."
It is just the eighth time since the NFL merger that one of the conference title games is a rematch after the Ravens and Patriots squared off last season.
According to Sports Illustrated, in six of those games the same team that won the previous year advanced to the super Bowl in the rematch. The only exceptions came from two teams who were playing in a rematch for the third straight year, with the 1976 Raiders defeating the Steelers and the 1994 San Francisco 49ers defeating the Cowboys after losing two straight.
The Ravens lost a heartbreaker last season in New England, as Lee Evans dropped the possible-winning touchdown in the end zone before Billy Cundiff missed a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Instead, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New York Giants.
This is another piece of history that the Ravens will need to overcome to defeat the Patriots. The other one will be Tom Brady. The New England quarterback has more playoff wins than anyone in history and is trying to advance to his sixth career Super Bowl.
The entire Ravens team will be inspired by linebacker Ray Lewis, who is retiring after this postseason run and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens following the 2000 season.
"My Super Bowl year in 2000, we were never picked one time the entire season to win a game. Not one time," Lewis said. "But at the end of the day, we held the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champs. That alone taught me a valuable lesson -- that no one outside dictates how we play on the inside."
The running game should be a big determining factor in the outcome of the game. The Ravens have bruiser Ray Rice at tailback, but the Patriots out gained Baltimore in rushing this season with 136 yards per game compared to 118. On top of that, last season the Patriots were successful in shutting down Rice, holding him to just 3.2 yards per carry on 21 tries in the championship game.
Although New England gave up 101 yards to Rice in the 31-30 Week 3 Ravens victory in Baltimore, the Patriots were better the rest of the season in rush defense, allowing 101.9 yards per game, ranked ninth in the NFL, while the Ravens were ranked 20th with 122 yards per game.
Tom Brady and the Patriots passing offense has a good matchup against the Ravens, even though they will be without one of their biggest weapons in tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke his arm last week against the Broncos and will miss the rest of the postseason. Either way, Brady knows he will have to keep an eye on Lewis.
"When you see when he makes a play, their whole sideline gets really amped up so I think you've always got to know where No. 52 is at," Brady said. "He's always right in the middle of the defense but whether he's blitzing or covering or he's free in the middle of the field, you always have to take him into account."
Brady has weapons to choose from in Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez, and the Ravens are below-average at cornerback with Cary Williams and Corey Graham starting in the secondary,. Welker had eight catches for 142 yards in the Week 3 matchup against the Ravens and he likely will be Brady's main target on Sunday.
Against Houston on Sunday, Brady was fantastic in the 41-28 win against Houston, throwing for 344 yards and three touchdowns to break Joe Montana's record for most playoff wins.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens will also have a solid matchup against the Patriots pass defense, which has given up 271 yards per game, ranked 29th in the league. Flacco has a big arm and used it to beat the Broncos in dramatic fashion and he likely will try the same tactic again against a New England defense that has struggled against the deep ball, allowing 74 passing plays of 20 yards or more during the NFL season.
The Ravens will have to overcome last year's disappointing loss, but have had past success against the Patriots, surprising them in the Wild Card round a few years ago.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Ravens 23. The Patriots are a well-oiled offensive machine and will be hard to defeat at home. Brady and New England has lost its past two Super Bowl appearances to the Giants and will be relishing an opportunity to get back to the big game. Flacco and the Ravens have proven to be a headache for the Patriots, but their defense has not been as strong as in past years. Brady and the Patriots will take it two years in a row in the championship game.