Two more weeks of this?
This week’s picks
Baltimore Sun staff: Five out of seven pick the Patriots. Jeff Zrebiec, who predicts Patriots 27, Ravens 23, writes, “I’m not a big believer in the whole ‘Team of Destiny’ storyline, but the Ravens are making it hard not to at least contemplate the possibility. However, it’s even harder to go against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in a big game at home.”
Kerry Byrne, Cold, Hard Football Facts: Patriots 27, Ravens 23. “The Patriots and Ravens have split their last four meetings while five of the six meetings since 2007 were decided by one score, including four decided by three points or less. The lone exception went Baltimore’s way: the humiliated the Patriots, 33-14, at Gillette, in the 2009 postseason. The Ravens know they can play with the Patriots and they will make plays in the passing game. But at the end of the day, New England’s offense, which seems so prolific no matter who’s on the field or who’s on the IR, simply has too much firepower. The Patriots reach the Super Bowl for an incredible sixth time in 11 seasons with Tom Brady at the helm while Ray Lewis’s last game is another tough defeat in Foxboro.”
Globe staff: Four out of five pick Baltimore (New England by 9).
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Patriots 31, Ravens 26. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Baltimore wins. But I’m going New England. The Ravens have made life hard on Tom Brady in the last three meetings (two touchdown passes, five interceptions), so I don’t think he’ll hang 40-something on them — but I do think the chemistry Brady’s developed with his backs will neutralize the loss of Rob Gronkowski. And as long as Wes Welker, his third-down crutch, is healthy, Brady will be the most dangerous weapon in this game. This will be a great game, though, the second straight weekend the league will produce an instant classic involving the Ravens.”
ESPN.com staff: Eight out of 12 pick the Patriots.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports.com: Patriots 31, Ravens 28. “The Ravens are riding high with two consecutive playoff victories, including a huge upset of the Broncos last week. Quarterback Joe Flacco has done a great job. He has been poised, calm and accurate. He lit up the Broncos last week. Flacco should have some shots down the field here with Torrey Smith against a New England team that finished 29th against the pass this season. The key the past couple of weeks for the Ravens has been their offensive line. They have done a great job in protection. The defense did a nice job of creating turnovers against Peyton Manning. They have to do the same thing to the Patriots to win this game. But the Patriots don’t turn it over much. Tom Brady is so good at finding the mismatches in the secondary that he rarely makes the big mistake. And he’s got a great feel for avoiding pressure in the pocket. Brady will get his big plays against a Ravens defense that isn’t quite what it has been in the past. I look for New England to spread out Baltimore and attack that way, with both the run and the pass. This has the makings of a fun, high-scoring game. The Ravens lost a close one last year in the AFC championship game to the Patriots and I think this one will follow suit. Baltimore will keep it close, but in the end Brady will make a play when he has to do so to get to another Super Bowl.”
CBS Sports.com staff: Ravens across the board (Ravens getting 9 ½).
John Boell, Newsday: Ravens. “This is a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game (won by the Pats, 23-20), as well as a regular season Week 3 tilt (won by the Ravens, 31-30). It’s the first time there’s been a rematch in the conference championship in 18 years. I still can’t get the image out of my head from last weekend as QB Joe Flacco hurled a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones (over a falling Rahim Moore of Denver) with 31 seconds left in regulation that helped the Ravens win in double overtime. I also can’t fathom the Broncos taking a knee at their own 20 with 31 seconds left, Peyton Manning under center and two timeouts. Can you say, ‘too conservative?’ Yikes! The Patriots always have their foot on the gas. Is there a better team the last decade? The Pats are 7-2 all-time in conference title games, including 4-0 at home. This matchup is intriguing because it features the NFL’s best home playoff team by percentage (Pats are 14-3, .824) vs. the NFL’s best road winning percentage team in the playoffs (Ravens are 8-5, .615) with teams with at least 10 postseason games. Quick stat: while New England is 4-2 overall vs. the Ravens since 2007, the average margin of victory is just 3.75 points — the Patriots’ lowest against any opponent during that span. I won’t be surprised if the Patriots win, especially with Tom Brady and his record 17 postseason wins, but I just think the nine-point spread is too much.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 34, Ravens 27. “NFL’s Super-stakes Sunday doubleheader ends with the first AFC Championship Game rematch since Denver-Cleveland did it back to back in 1986-87. (If it involved the Browns being good you KNOW it was awhile ago!) Pats snuck by last year, 23-20, when Ravens missed a tying 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left. Partial payback came early this season with Baltimore winning at home over New England 31-30, but this game obviously is the revenge Crows had in mind. The rematch factor gives this game some appeal, even though Pats vs. Broncos — and Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning — was the AFC title bout everybody outside of Maryland had in mind. Brady’s credentials are etched in bronze and gilded in gold, of course, while counterpart Joe Flacco still must prove he can guide his team to a Super Bowl. So, can he? Not this time. I’d play it closer than the betting line, but Brady’s league-leading offense has too many ways to attack, and that’s even with Rob Gronkowski once again out injured. The old Cane Ray Lewis has nobly been able to put off his retirement, but the long road ends here. New England is 13-4 at home in the playoffs, including 4-0 in conference title games. One of my few set rules is to never pick against Brady at home in winter, and this is no time to second guess that.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Ravens 33, Patriots 30. “The Patriots proved again last week that nothing fazes their offense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead left with injuries, but Brady used Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen to pick apart Houston. The Texans didn’t attack enough to match them, something the Ravens will do. Baltimore’s defense also has more impact players who can produce a key stop, sack or turnover. Much of the playoff attention on Baltimore has been on the impending retirement of Ray Lewis. But it’s been a whole lot of other players, led by Flacco and Rice, paving the way for their surprising run. They have at least one more upset in them.”
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 27, Ravens 24. “In September, I picked the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl. So how can I pick against them in the game that would put them there? Actually, it’s a convenient way to play both sides of the fence, and I’m tempted to pick the Ravens; it just feels like it’s time for them to get back to the Super Bowl, and I’d love to see a Harbaugh-vs.-Harbaugh battle for the NFL title. But it also feels like it’s time for the Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. With the Giants out of the mix, this could be the year to make that happen. So for no particular reason other than it wouldn’t be right to abandon my AFC Super Bowl pick this close to it coming to fruition, the Pats hold serve and head back to the site of their first Super Bowl win.”
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 30, Ravens 20. “The Ravens have typically played well against the Patriots, including in a 31-30 Week Three win. In that game, Joe Flacco had 382 passing yards,Torrey Smith had 127 receiving yards and Ray Rice had 101 rushing yards, and I think the Ravens will need that kind of offensive performance if they’re going to have any hope of winning in New England on Sunday. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Patriots’ defense is playing better now than it was early in the regular season, and that’s going to be the difference this time. Flacco won’t have the same kind of passing game in the regular season, but Tom Brady will have another big performance against the Ravens’ secondary. The Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston.com: Patriots. “A lot of people who are picking the Ravens are pointing to Baltimore’s Week 3 win. I’m not. That game took place 17 weeks ago, but more importantly it was officiated by the replacements. It was perhaps the most atrociously officiated competition of any kind that I’ve ever seen. I remember wondering aloud if the game would actually count in the standings, because what was taking place was just an embarrassment. Remember Julian Edelman getting mugged and getting penalized for offensive pass interference, or John Harbaugh getting a 15-yard penalty for …. something? It wasn’t slanted one way or the other, it was just ineptitude run rampant, rendering most analysis of that game utterly useless.”
USA Today staff: Seven out of eight pick the Pats.
Yahoo! sports staff: Two out of three go with New England.
Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Ravens 34, Patriots 30. “Poke holes in my reasoning all you want. I took the Ravens last week against the Broncos and you all called me a fool. I’ve also taken the Giants in not one, but two Super Bowls over the Patriots in the past five years and you’ve all called me a fool those times, too. I don’t pick against New England often, but when I do, I tend to have a pretty fair success rate. And I’m cool with being called a fool. I’m also cool with picking the Ravens to win the AFC.”
It says here: Patriots 24, Ravens 17. 49ers 34, Falcons 31. Editors feverishly hunting down any and all photos of Brady as a boy, cheering for his hometown Niners.