The Patriots were rather fortunate to escape at home in last year’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens when Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard potential tying field goal in the final seconds. And it will be a rematch on Sunday in Foxboro, first AFC Championship game rematch in consecutive years since Denver and Cleveland met in back-to-back conference title games following the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
The Patriots advanced to their 10th AFC Championship with a 41-28 win over Houston in the Divisional round. New England is 7-2 in AFC Championship Games, including 4-0 at home. With the victory, Tom Brady recorded his 17th playoff victory as a starting quarterback, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana (16) for the most in NFL history. Brady passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots’ Divisional win, including two TD passes to running back Shane Vereen, who had only eight career receptions prior to Sunday’s game.
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Meanwhile, Bill Belichick earned his 18th postseason win as a head coach, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs (17) for the third-most in NFL history. He trails Pro Football Hall of Famers Don Shula (19) and Tom Landry (20) for the most wins by a head coach in NFL playoff history.
Brady is 86-15 in his career in home starts (including postseason). Among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl and made at least 20 starts at home, Brady has the best home winning percentage (.851).
The Patriots will be without All-Pro tight Rob Gronkowski, who broke his arm in Sunday’s win against the Houston Texans. Brady’s numbers with Gronk on the field this year: 65.7 percent completions, 6.0 yards per play and 23 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. With Gronk off the field: 58.4 percent completions, 5.4 yards per play, 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
New England is accustomed to playing without this star tight end. (It went 4-1 in the regular season without Gronk.) Despite a few drops, Wes Welker had 131 receiving yards last week and Aaron Hernandez added another 85. Add in Brandon Lloyd into that equation along with the receiving prowess of New England’s running backs and there is no a shortage of receivers for whom Baltimore must account. The Ravens’ cornerbacks have been a problem, but the presence of safety Ed Reed in the middle of the field remains a plus. The Ravens have been much stingier over the past month and a half than early in the season, when Welker and Lloyd combined for 17 receptions and 250 yards against Baltimore in Week 3.
Contrary to popular belief, the Patriots are a balanced offense. And their running game is a dimension that can set this great offense apart from past years. Stevan Ridley is New England’s lead back, but once Danny Woodhead left last week’s game, Shane Vereen stepped up huge with 124 total yards and three touchdowns. The left side of the Patriots’ offensive line, made up of Logan Mankins and Nate Solder, was particularly dominating vs. Houston. However, New England’s running game was extremely ineffective when these teams met in Week 3, collectively averaging just 2.3 yards per rush, while the Broncos averaged only 3 yards per carry against this defense last week.
SPORTSBETONLINE.COM OPENING ODDS: Patriots -9.5 (51). Check our current lines.
PATRIOTS NOTES: Club is 14-3 (.824) at home in postseason … Patriots have 7-2 all-time record (4-0 at home) in Conference Championship Games … Seek 2nd consecutive Super Bowl berth & 8th overall … TOM BRADY (5,629) has 4th-most passing yards in NFL playoff history. Brady (41) joined Montana (45) & BRETT FAVRE (44) as only QBs to reach 40 postseason TD passes alltime. Brady (524) has most career postseason completions all-time. Has 17-6 (.739) playoff record, best postseason record as starting QB in NFL history (min. 15 starts). Brady has 5 postseason games with 300+ passing yards, trailing only PEYTON MANNING (8), HOFer JOE MONTANA (6) & KURT WARNER (6) … RB STEVAN RIDLEY rushed for 82 yards on 15 att. (5.5 avg.) with TD last week. Ridley (1,263) is 5th player in franchise history to reach 1,200 rush yards in season. Last week RB SHANE VEREEN joined ROGER CRAIG & RICKY WATTERS as only players in NFL postseason history with 2 TD catches & TD run in same playoff game. Vereen totaled 124 scrimmage yards last week (83 receiving, 41 rushing) … WR WES WELKER (61) has most career postseason receptions in club history. Welker (131) posted 2nd 100-yard career receiving game in postseason last week. WR BRANDON LLOYD (108) & Welker (142) each posted 100+ receiving yards in last meeting against Ravens (9/23/12). Lloyd posted TD reception in 1st career playoff game last week. WR DEION BRANCH (836) has most career postseason receiving yards in Patriots history … TE AARON HERNANDEZ had 6 catches for 85 yards last week … LB JEROD MAYO led club with 147 tackles in ’12. LB BRANDON SPIKES has sack, INT, FF & FR in 5 career postseason games … DT VINCE WILFORK had sack in AFC Championship Game vs. Bal. last season … DE ROB NINKOVICH posted 1st career INT in playoffs last week … Club had 7 players selected to 2013 Pro Bowl (QB Brady, TE Gronkowski, G LOGAN MANKINS, LB Mayo, WR MATTHEW SLATER, WR Welker, DT Wilfork).
SPORTSBETONLINE TRENDS: Patriots are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games on fieldturf. Patriots are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 home games. Patriots are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing more than 250 yards passing in their previous game. Patriots are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games following a S.U. win. Patriots are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 vs. AFC. Patriots are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 playoff home games. Patriots are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 playoff games. Over is 7-1 in Patriots last 8 games in January. Over is 13-3 in Patriots last 16 games after allowing more than 350 total yards in their previous game. Over is 4-1 in Patriots last 5 home games vs. a team with a winning road record. Over is 7-2 in Patriots last 9 games after allowing more than 250 yards passing in their previous game.