AFC Championship Game Picks: Patriots host Ravens at Gillette Stadium

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Sunday, 1/22/12, 3:00 PM EST, TV:  CBS
Opening Point Spread:  New England -9
Current Betting Line:  New England -7
Opening Total:  50.5
Current Total:  50
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Patriots vs. Ravens AFC Championship Preview
New England QB Tom Brady is 4-1 lifetime against the Ravens as he continues his quest for a 4th Super Bowl title.

The New England Patriots have bad memories of their last home playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens two years ago.  That setback has helped motivate the top-seeded Patriots (14-3) this postseason as they attempt to win their fourth Super Bowl title.  But first, they will need to knock off the second-seeded Ravens (13-4) in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

Baltimore routed New England 33-14 in the team’s last playoff appearance at Gillette Stadium, scoring two touchdowns within the first five minutes of the game, starting with an 83-yard dash by running back Ray Rice on the team’s first offensive play.  Rice rushed for 159 yards on 22 carries and scored twice against the Patriots (-7, O/U 50) that day, and he totaled a career-high 1,364 yards on the ground this season with 15 touchdowns.

The Ravens are 12-0 this year when Rice carries the ball at least 18 times, including last Sunday’s 20-13 home win over Houston in the divisional round.  He had 60 yards on 21 carries against the Texans, failing to break a big one with a long run of just nine yards.  But Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco also struggled throwing the ball, completing 13 of 27 passes for 176 yards.  Flacco’s two touchdown passes both came on short drives following Houston turnovers.

If Rice and Flacco do not play better offensively against New England, the Ravens likely will not be heading to Indianapolis two weeks from now.  Their defense carried them against the Texans and was clearly the difference in facing rookie QB T.J. Yates, who threw three interceptions.

The Patriots are hoping to get off to a fast start and put pressure on Baltimore’s offense, much like they did in a 45-10 blowout victory over Denver at home last Saturday.  They scored their first touchdown against the Broncos within the first two minutes of the game and followed with another less than seven minutes later for a quick 14-0 lead.

While Denver finally got on the board with a touchdown early in the second quarter, New England proceeded to erupt for 28 unanswered points en route to the easy win.  Patriots QB Tom Brady looked like a man on a mission, tying an NFL playoff record with six touchdown passes.  Brady picked up his first home win in the postseason since 2008, which is the last time his team went on to the Super Bowl.

The fourth-ranked pass defense of the Ravens will get a serious test here after giving up an average of just 196.3 yards per game during the regular season.  All-Pro safety Ed Reed suffered an ankle injury at the end of last week’s win and could have trouble keeping up with New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom were in college the last time the teams met in the postseason.

The Patriots are riding a nine-game winning streak, going 6-3 against the spread during that stretch with the OVER cashing in the last seven.  Baltimore has won seven of eight but has failed to cover four of five.  Brady is 4-1 lifetime against the Ravens, and the OVER is 3-1 in the past four meetings.

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