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AFC Championship Game: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

Are this year’s Baltimore Ravens the re-incarnation of the New York Giants from 2007 and 2011? The New England Patriots are more than familiar with those stories. Baltimore was very up and down during the regular season, having some very good games interspersed with many where they struggled for stretches but won. They finished the year losing four of the last five regular season games.

Let’s keep in mind, though, that not only was Ray Lewis out, but Terrell Suggs was working the way back from injury. Just as importantly, this offense was very inconsistent. Joe Flacco, though, now comes in doing his best Eli Manning in the playoffs, with two straight games where he made big throws. He now gets an opponent who he has played well against recently.

Joe Flacco vs. New England, last two games: 50 of 75, 688 passing yards (9.2 ypa), 5 TD and 2 INT.

The second boldest move among teams in the championship games (Kaepernick being installed as the starter being #1) was when Baltimore axed Cam Cameron despite their record. What impact has it had?

Well, for one, Ray Rice has been used more on first and second down. Flacco is throwing less, but throwing downfield more. Baltimore is only passing it on first down 36% of the time under Jim Caldwell, compared to 52% under Cameron. On second down and long, it’s 51% vs. 63% for Cameron. Second down and mid-range (4-6 yards), it is 42% vs. 51%.

While Flacco is throwing less frequently in the same situation, he is more effective and making more plays downfield, while also taking fewer sacks. Whether it is a function of small number of games or something meaningful, Flacco has been better since Cameron was fired. In the last five games (he only threw eight passes against Cincinnati), he is 79 of 141 (56%) for 1,210 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He has taken a sack on 4% of dropbacks, cutting his career rate by almost 50%. The completion percentage is lower, but it is in exchange for big plays.

So the key here? New England’s secondary, with the addition of Aqib Talib, preventing the big throws to Torrey Smith and the chunks on third down to Anquan Boldin. We know what we have on the other side of the ball, where the veteran Ravens defense will go against the Patriots’ high powered offense. Whether the Ravens really did steal the Giants’ mojo at the end of the regular season, though, will depend on whether the offense we’ve seen the last five weeks is the real deal again.

The Line: New England by 8

The Pick: New England 30, Baltimore 25

[photo via USA Today Sports Images]

 

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