A loss in the AFC Championship game would mark the second time in six years the New England Patriots lost a playoff game in which they were favored by nine or more points. The problem is, no one bothered to tell the Ravens they aren't supposed to be in this game.
There's plenty suggesting the heavily-favored Patriots will advance to their sixth Super Bowl in the last 12 years. But the fact the defending AFC Champions are getting nine points in this game is a bit crazy, especially considering the Ravens have put together a few dominant weapons amid their playoff run.
Add that into recent trends in the NFL playoffs, and you've got the makings of an upset at Foxborough this weekend.
Freshness of offensive line
One of the most uncovered aspects of the Ravens' upset over the Broncos was the outstanding performance by their offensive line. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was re-inserted in the lineup after sitting most of this season, and it seems as if that was Baltimore's plan all along. McKinnie looked every bit his age in last year's playoffs, eventually leading to a poor performance against the Patriots in last's year's conference championship. With a rested McKinnie on the left side, and Michael Oher back to his more comfortable right side, the Ravens are going to get outstanding edge pass protection for quarterback Joe Flacco.
It's the ultimate X-factor in the NFL. The Patriots no doubt have an advantage with the precision of their short-passing game and at the quarterback position, but just ask Denver the difference over the course of a game what happens if you don't have the ability to throw the ball deep. Baltimore could keep Denver's running game in check over the second half because the Ravens could get away with single-high coverage, even with an outstanding all-around threat like DeMaryius Thomas on the field. The Broncos could not account for the speed of Torrey Smith on the outside, thus keeping the Ravens within striking distance at all times. Expect Baltimore to take shots early and often in this game.
Variety of front seven looks, personnel
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees is going to earn his paycheck in this game. Knowing he's going up against one of the most calculating and precise passers in NFL history, the different looks and coverages he throws at Brady will be critical in the Ravens' ability to keep Brady in check as much as possible. By the second half last week, they were getting to Manning frequently, and much of that was due to Baltimore's ability to keep the ball in front of them in the passing game.
The Ravens weren't the only team last week to give up big gains in the return game. Daniel Manning had multiple long returns against the Patriots, and while the Ravens allowed more kick return yards to one player than anyone ever has in NFL playoff history, Jacoby Jones is a stronger return man than is Wes Welker. Add in the consistent long-range accuracy of kicker Justin Tucker, the Ravens may be able to get more of a boost from their special teams units than New England can.
As lame as this is to write about, there's something behind the fact road teams have split with home teams in the last four conference championship games, and the fact the No. 1 seed has only won two Super Bowls since 2003. Teams that build momentum heading into the playoffs, and ones that establish momentum in the playoffs, seem to become even more difficult to beat, regardless of where the game is being played. On one hand, you can buy into the hype that is the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour. On the other, you can look at a Ravens group that has been talented this season, but hasn't put it all together quite yet. On a third hand, you can look at what appears to be a Patriots team playing without an emotional charge. Methodical, brutally efficient and multi-dimensional, absolutely, but this team hasn't won a Super Bowl in eight years despite having seven postseason appearances in that time. They've basically never been the underdog, but they've been upset plenty of times previously.