AFC: Ravens (12-6) at Patriots (13-4)
Give the Ravens credit. After losing four of their final five regular-season games, they've recaptured the magic from their 9-2 start and are peaking at just the right time. No small factor is the play of reinvigorated quarterback Joe Flacco and the inspiration provided by retiring linebacker Ray Lewis. The Patriots went 9-1 down the stretch and are primed to reach the Super Bowl for the sixth time since 2001. Now quarterback Tom Brady and his team look to defend their home turf, where the Patriots are 14-3 in the postseason.
Time: 6:30 tonight TV/radio: Ch. 10; 98.7-FM, 1010-AM
Coaches: Ravens — John Harbaugh (54-26, 7-4 playoffs); Patriots — Bill Belichick (151-57, 17-6 playoffs at New England; 187-101, 18-7 overall)
Breaking it down
Ravens game-breaker: Linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs has recorded a sack of Brady in three of his past four meetings with the Patriots.
Patriots game-breaker: The play of former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib will go a long way toward determining whether the Patriots win. He will be matched against Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin, having responsibility for a key Ravens target in either case.
Why the Ravens will win: Flacco and his receivers have been playing some of their best football this season in the playoffs, giving the Ravens the ability to keep pace with the high-octane Patriots offense.
Why the Patriots will win: Winning consecutive road games in the playoffs is a very tall order. And the Ravens are up against an experienced Patriots team motivated by a loss in last year's Super Bowl.
Look out for: Patriots (and former Florida) tight end Aaron Hernandez could play a bigger role with Rob Gronkowski out for the season because of a broken left arm. Hernandez was targeted nine times during last week's win over the Texans, several times after Gronkowski left the game.
Patriots 30, Ravens 28
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer
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* Final regular-season stats