One more win and the Patriots will advance to their sixth Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era. However, they will have to deal with Ray Lewis and the Ravens on Sunday. Let's take a look at my bold predictions for the AFC Championship game.
Heading into the AFC Championship, the New England Patriots need to have this goal: End the illustrious career of Ray Lewis.
If the Patriots do win on Sunday, then it will ultimately be the end of an era; the Ray Lewis era in Baltimore.
Other than making this the final game of Ray Lewis' 17-year career, New England's ultimate goal has to be one thing: Win the game and advance to their sixth Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era.
In that spirit, let's take a look at my bold predictions for the AFC Championship game.
1. Ray Lewis will record 15-plus tackles
This certainly won't be all that of a surprise, as Ray Lewis will be playing out of his mind knowing that this could very well be the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
Lewis has recorded 30 tackles in the past two weeks of the playoffs, so continuing on the trend of 15 tackles per-game isn't all that far fetched.
Lewis will do everything in his power to give his team the best possible chance of winning.
2. Tom Brady will throw only two touchdowns
I don't see Tom Brady having a record-setting performance, I just see him playing mediocre—well, mediocre for Brady's standards.
I do think Brady will be effective, but will only toss two touchdowns—which isn't all that much for TB12.
Baltimore's defense will thrive off of the motivation that Ray Lewis has given them, and will ultimately limit Brady.
3. Joe Flacco will throw three touchdowns and won't throw an interception
Joe Flacco has been playing as well as he's ever been in the past two weeks of the playoffs.
Flacco enters the AFC Championship with a 120.0 quarterback rating in the postseason while completing 30 of his 57 passes for 613 yards while tossing five touchdowns and not throwing a single interception.
I honestly don't see Flacco struggling at all against the Patriots, and much like Baltimore's defense, Flacco will be fueled by the motivation given by Ray Lewis.
4. Ray Rice will be held under 75-yards rushing
When the Patriots and Ravens met back in Week 3, it wasn't all that pretty for New England's run-defense.
Ray Rice had an impressive performance as he rushed for 101 yards on 20 carries while punching in one touchdown—however, I don't see Rice putting up those kind of numbers again against the Patriots.
I'm actually predicting a similar performance to the one that he had last season against the Patriots in the AFC Championship as he rushed for 67 yards on 21 carries and failed to score a touchdown.
If there's one thing that New England's defense is good at, it's limiting elite running backs.
5. Aaron Hernandez will be New England's leading receiver
Forget Rob Gronkowski—the Patriots already played a stretch of the season without Gronk and were just fine.
Aaron Hernandez will not only put up those typical numbers that we expect out of him, but he'll make up for the production that we'd anticipate out of Gronk.
I see Hernandez finishing the day with something along these lines: 12 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown.
Final prediction: New England: 31 Baltimore: 30
This game will be as close as it possibly can.
In all honesty, I really don't know who is going to win this game—the only reason why I'm giving the Patriots the edge is solely because of home-field advantage.
The fact that the line was first slotted at NE -9.5 and now drop to NE -8.5 is completely absurd—this game is going to be a close one, and there's no way that I see the Patriots blowing out the Ravens.
Baltimore will be fueled by Ray Lewis and their entire 53-man roster will do everything in their power to ensure that Gillette Stadium won't be hosting "Ray's Retirement Party."
However, with the Patriots playing at home, I am giving New England a slight edge over Lewis and the Ravens.