The New England Patriots had the benefit of a week off after their regular-season finale.
So what else is new?
This is the fifth consecutive season the Patriots have earned one of the AFC’s top two seedings, allowing them to sit out the wild-card round. They claimed the top seeding in the conference this season, and reached the Super Bowl two of the last three times they did that.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” said New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose team will play host to Baltimore on Saturday. “We’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
Clearly, the Baltimore Ravens aren’t intimidated by the prospect of playing a postseason game at Gillette Stadium. They beat the Patriots there in the 2009 and 2012 seasons, and narrowly lost to New England in the 2011 AFC title game — a 23-20 defeat in which Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds to play.
“We’re very confident,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. “We believe we have a good team. We believe we have a team that can win this game. I think that allows you to go out there and play free and play with that mind-set and not really let those other thoughts creep into your head.”
New England’s quarterback has another NFL record within reach. Brady has 43 postseason touchdown passes, putting him third in league history behind Brett Favre (44) and Joe Montana (45).
Against Pittsburgh last weekend, Flacco completed 18 of 29 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has thrown 166 passes in postseason play without being picked off; that’s the fourth-longest streak in league history.
Flacco needs 14 more passes without an interception to surpass Steve Young (173) and Montana (179) to move into second place behind Drew Brees (226).
The temperature is expected to hover in the low-20s for Saturday’s game, so the teams have been preparing for the cold. While the Patriots practiced outside Friday, the Ravens had to move indoors because their fields were frozen and unplayable.
Baltimore compensated by opening the doors of its indoor facility and letting the mercury drop. Some of the Ravens players practiced without sleeves to accentuate the effect of the cold.
Goodie in a hoodie
New England’s Bill Belichick is tied with Hall of Famer Don Shula with 19 postseason victories. One more win, and the Patriots coach would be tied for the lead with Cowboys’ legend Tom Landry.
There’s something to the Ravens’ ability to win at Gillette, something they nearly accomplished three times in a row. Coach John Harbaugh has been tremendous. The Ravens have a game plan to beat the Patriots, but they don’t have the secondary to pull it off. The Patriots can run it when they need to, throw when they need to, and they’ve got a little too much for Baltimore.
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