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Expert is lined up

Ex-Raven Flynn knows matchup

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / January 20, 2012
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The 410 area code of Mike Flynn’s cellphone number is a hint as to why his opinion on football matters is such a coveted one this week.

Those three digits represent the metropolitan Baltimore area, where Flynn, the cohost of the weekend “Johnston and Flynn’’ program on 98.5 The Sports Hub and an analyst on NESN, spent 11 seasons (1997-2007) as a Ravens offensive lineman.

“I’ve really got to get a new phone,’’ said Flynn in mock exasperation, “but you know how it is. All those old contacts are in there.’’

He certainly has plenty of connections to Baltimore. The Agawam native and University of Maine graduate was the starting center on the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl championship team. He was Ray Lewis’s teammate for 11 years, Ed Reed’s for six, and his career ended in 2008 when he was cut by the Patriots in training camp.

Flynn has proven an incisive observer in his time at The Sports Hub, engaging, insightful, and self-deprecating. He does not have that habit that plagues many ex-athletes in the media of reminding the listener that he played the game, even though he did at the highest level and for a long stretch at an extraordinarily demanding position.

It’s hard to believe there’s anyone in the electronic media, locally or nationally, more qualified to discuss Sunday’s AFC Championship between the Patriots and Ravens. And that includes his former teammate, ESPN’s Trent Dilfer.

Flynn’s key for the Ravens? Keeping Ray Rice involved, but not just in the running game. Flynn said the stocky running back could give the Patriots significant problems as a receiver.

“There are opportunities down the field where [quarterback Joe] Flacco probably could push the envelope a little bit, but he’s going to check it down, and Rice is a guy in the passing game who is very similar to [the Saints’] Darren Sproles,’’ said Flynn, who believes the Ravens need about 160 yards from Rice on the ground and six or so receptions on Sunday. “He can turn a checkdown into an explosive play.’’

For the Patriots, it’s simple: Keep the Ravens’ pass rush away from Tom Brady and let him make plays in the passing game. “And I have no idea how the Ravens cover the tight ends,’’ Flynn said, referencing Patriots second-year stalwarts Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. “I don’t think you can. Ray [Lewis] would have been a good guy six or seven years ago, but not now.’’

The Ravens are habitual providers of bulletin-board material for an opponent, something that began during Flynn’s playing days when the coach was not John Harbaugh but a more media-friendly sort.

“If there was any guy who loved a sound bite, it was Brian Billick,’’ Flynn said. “So the tone is kind of set by that. When the coach likes to find the camera, it’s hard to tell the players not to.’’

Flynn chuckles at the differences in approach to the media taken by the Patriots and Ravens. He said he wasn’t particularly surprised that Reed caused an uproar with his comments on a sports radio show that Flacco was “rattled’’ by the Texans during a divisional-round win and needs to play better.

“If you’ve covered the Patriots, you know they have the rolodex of clichés,’’ said Flynn. “But that isn’t bad. On the other side, you have a guy like Ed Reed, who I’ll say this, is probably one of the best players I’ve ever played with or seen. He’s a Hall of Famer, and that gets him a little bit of a pass to say what’s on his mind, some leeway. Ray has that, too. But still, you have that bad timing, days before an AFC Championship, and while you hope when you say it that it’s going to motivate the guy, when you call people out too much it falls on deaf ears. He’ll probably regret the timing, but I don’t think he’ll regret what he’ll have to say, though ultimately it all depends on what happens Sunday.’’

Mixed signals

It will reassure Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti’s loyal fans that, yes, they’ll be calling the AFC Championship game on the Patriots flagship, 98.5 The Sports Hub, as well as the Super Bowl, should the Patriots advance.

There had been some confusion this week, based on reader correspondence, because WEEI has been emphasizing that it will carry the broadcasts of the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.

Dave Sims, James Lofton, and Tony Boselli will have the call of Patriots-Ravens on Westwood One that will be heard on WEEI. Kevin Harlan and Boomer Esiason will be the tandem in the booth for the Super Bowl.

In other words, Sunday’s game and the Super Bowl will air on both Boston sports stations, so you’ll have your choice of the local and national calls.

Waiting to hear

NESN continues to maintain suspense when it comes to who will replace the popular Heidi Watney as the reporter on Red Sox broadcasts. Multiple candidates who auditioned weeks ago have not been informed of their status, but it’s believed Watney’s successor will be announced in a matter of days. NESN has auditioned approximately a half-dozen candidates, and a tape with all of the finalists, according to an industry source, has been given to Sox chairman Tom Werner, who will make the decision. One name not previously mentioned here who is known to be under consideration is Jenny Dell, a UMass graduate who has worked on-air as a reporter as well as some off-camera duties at ESPN . . . It was erroneously reported elsewhere this week (no, not by Rob Lowe) that CSNNE had hired Jen Royle, the Mansfield native currently based in Baltimore and covering the Ravens for 105.7 The Fan. While Royle, who is moving back to Boston next week and is working to land a steady television or radio gig in the market, had a positive meeting with CSNNE, there’s nothing official to report.

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