Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens face off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for the third time in a year, in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game.
Though they're not divisional foes, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have developed quite the rivalry in recent years -- and the two teams will add to that rivalry this weekend, in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game.
The last time two AFC teams collided in an AFC Championship game rematch was 1987, when the Denver Broncos defeated the Cleveland Browns for the second consecutive season. A title game rematch has occurred six times so far in the AFC's history, with the same team winning both year five of the six times -- the lone exception coming in 1975-76, when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders met in consecutive seasons, with each team earning a trip to the Super Bowl.
Sterling Moore and the Patriots bested the Ravens in last year's AFC title game, 23-20. In the waning moments of last year's AFC Championship game, Moore knocked what would have been a go-ahead touchdown pass out of Lee Evans' hands, keeping New England in the lead. Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field that would have sent the game into overtime, punching New England's ticket to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.
Despite the win, the Patriots did not play that well in last year's AFC Championship game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told reports that he "sucked pretty bad today." Brady completed just 22-of-36 passes for 239 yards and two interceptions. Brady did not throw a touchdown pass, but did score on a fourth down, quarterback sneak -- the decisive touchdown in the contest.
Statistically, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship game. Baltimore had more passing yards (282-234), rushing yards (116-96) and a higher yards-per-play average (5.7-4.9). The Ravens even won the turnover battle, three-to-one, but still did not come away with the win.
Baltimore extracted some revenge in Week 3, when the Ravens overcame deficits of 13-0 and 30-21 to defeat the Patriots on a last-second field goal, 31-30. The two teams combined for a staggering 24 penalties, uncharacteristic of a Belichick or Harbaugh team -- though it should be noted that Week 3 was the final week with replacement referees working games.
Replacement referees aside, Joe Flacco completed 28-of-39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the Week 3 clash. Torrey Smith was the recipient of six of Flacco's completions, for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots were held to just 77 yards on the ground in the Week 3 loss, averaging a meager 2.3 yards per carry. Though the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski (two catches, 21 yards) in Week 3, it was the first game New England played in 2012 without Aaron Hernandez. Unlike Week 3, the Patriots will have Hernandez in the AFC title game -- and will be without Gronkowski.
Even without Hernandez, Brady completed 28-of-41 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. Wes Welker caught eight passes for a game-high 142 yards, while Brandon Lloyd had a game-high nine receptions for 108 yards.
New England's secondary has undergone major changes since the Week 3 loss. Devin McCourty moved to safety. Aqib Talib was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and starts at corner along with Alfonzo Dennard. Neither Talib nor Dennard played for the Patriots in Week 3.
Baltimore did not have Terrell Suggs during its Week 3 win over New England. The Ravens, however, did have cornerback Lardarius Webb active and playing in Week 3. Webb, Baltimore's top cornerback, was placed on injured reserve in October.
When New England and Baltimore kick off, it will be the ninth time since the 2002 season that the AFC Championship game will feature a rematch of a regular season contest. In each of the last two instances (2009, 2010), the regular season loser extracted revenge, and advanced to the Super Bowl.