Newyorkjets.com is profiling each NFL playoff game this postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Here is Sunday's AFC Championship Game:
(2) BALTIMORE (13-4) at (1) NEW ENGLAND (14-3), 3 p.m. ET, CBS
Last week the Ravens survived an impressive defensive effort by the Texans while the Patriots made quick work of the upstart Broncos. Among the four teams remaining, New England has the most prolific offense, Baltimore the highest-ranked defense. These are two teams who have developed reputations for being the best at what they do, and on Sunday one will move on to Super Bowl XLVI.
Last week's win was Pats head coach Bill Belichick's and QB Tom Brady's 15th win together, making them the winningest head coach/quarterback combo in postseason NFL history. The Patriots will try to add to the record on Sunday and reach their fifth Super Bowl in the last 11 years. Standing in the way is a hungry Ravens squad that has not won an AFC Championship since reaching Super Bowl XXXV at the end of the 2000 season.
As good as Brady's career has been, he shines ever brighter in the playoffs. He is coming off a career-best postseason game in which he set personal playoff records with a 76.5 completion percentage and an NFL-playoffs-record-tying six touchdown passes. Although he shredded the Broncos defense as the Patriots scored 45 points, Brady knows the Ravens pose a unique challenge.
"They're the best team we've faced all year," Brady told WEEI-AM, a Boston sports radio station. "There's no team that's going to overlook a team like that. They present a ton of challenges in all three phases of the game."
New England is riding a nine-game winning streak entering this game. They have not lost since Week 9, when they fell to the Giants at Gillette Stadium. During the streak the AFC's No. 1 offense is winning big, averaging 37.3 points per game and allowing 18.7.
Meanwhile, the Ravens finished the season as the No. 3 defense in yards and points allowed. They were second against the run, fourth against the pass. They tied with San Francisco in leading the league with 3.5 yards per carry allowed and were third with 6.4 yards allowed per passing attempt. It's a defense that never seems to have a down year, having finished in the top 10 in total defense every year since 2003.
The Patriots' offensive juggernaut led by Brady was the most prolific in franchise history, gaining 6,848 yards. Brady's 5,235 passing yards were the second-most in an NFL season behind Saints QB Drew Brees and the 5,476 yards he threw this season.
Brady has no shortage of weapons, with TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Wes Welker both recording career years. Gronkowski set NFL tight end records with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 TDs. Welker led the league with 122 receptions and was second with 1,569 receiving yards.
If the Pats hope to become AFC champions, they will have to solve the Baltimore defense led by probable future Hall of Famers LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. This season, the Ravens were allowing opponents to reach the end zone on only 11.7 percent of their drives, best in the NFL ahead of the 49ers' 11.9 percent.
Baltimore intercepted Houston QB T.J. Yates three times on Sunday en route to its 20-13 victory. CB Lardarius Webb picked off two passes, while Reed added one of his own and now has eight interceptions in his postseason career, tied for fourth all-time.
Offensively, the Ravens are led by their dual threat, RB Ray Rice and fourth-year QB Joe Flacco. Rice led the league this season with 2,068 scrimmage yards (1,364 rushing, 704 receiving). Against the Texans Flacco won his fifth playoff game, tying him with Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner for the second-most postseason victories by a QB in his first four years. Only Brady (6) has more.
Sunday's game will be the eighth meeting between the Ravens and Patriots, with the Pats dominating the series, 6-1. However, the lone blemish was a 33-14 home loss in the 2009 AFC Wild Card Round. Rice ran for a franchise-playoff-record 159 yards and two touchdowns, one on an 83-yard run.
Baltimore ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards and intercepted Brady three times that day. Brady's 49.1 passer rating stands as the lowest of his postseason career. Reed had an interception while Lewis had 13 tackles and a sack and LB Terrell Suggs had a strip sack that he recovered to set up the Ravens' second TD.
Despite their series record, the Ravens have historically shown the ability to stop Brady. holding him to 226.6 yards per game and totals of six TDs and six INTs.
In their three head-to-head meetings, Flacco has performed well opposite Brady. Baltimore's gunslinger has completed 63 percent of his passes for 583 yards, four TDs and two INTs vs. Brady's 60.2 percent accuracy, 704 yards, four TDs but five INTs.
The New England roster has plenty of Jets flavor. DE Shaun Ellis spent 11 years with the Green & White before leaving for New England and recorded his first Patriots postseason sack last week. RB Danny Woodhead, who played 11 games for the Jets in 2009 and '10, had four carries for 25 yards against Denver. S James Ihedigbo, who played three seasons for the Jets, contributed seven tackles vs. the Broncos. Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson was a Jets linebacker in 1997-98.
The Ravens have far less Jets influence on their roster. DB Emanuel Cook was signed in December after he was released by the Jets. Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler coached QBs and WRs for the Jets in 2003-04.
There will be plenty of local talent on the field on Sunday, with Rutgers University well-represented. Rice (New Rochelle, N.Y.), New England CB Devin McCourty (Nanuet, N.Y.), and Patriots WR Tiquan Underwood (Lawrenceville, N.J.) are all Rutgers alumni. Additionally, Flacco (Audubon) and Baltimore OL Bryant McKinnie (Woodbury) will represent the Garden State.
The Ravens are making their second appearance in the AFC Championship Game in the last four seasons. The Jets share that distinction, having played in the title game after the 2009 and '10 seasons.