Inside the matchup:
» Analyst predictions for Championship Sunday
» Big offense, tough defense highlights AFC title game
» Darlington: Gronkowski leads Boston TE party
» Wyche: Year of the tight end continues Sunday
» Ravens' Harbaugh heaps high praise on Belichick
» Better shot at first Super Bowl, Smith or Flacco?
» Harrison: Patriots are best team left in playoffs
» La Canfora: Will SBXLVI be a family reunion?
» Imagine this: Gronk, Hernandez as Ravens, not Pats
» The Season: T-Sizzle carries on Ravens' heritage
» Breer: Ageless Reed still chasing elusive ring
» Breer: Pollard not concerned about history with Pats
» Darlington: Final Four will produce a new champion
» Moments that defined playoff teams' seasons
The Ravens' season may come down to one man: Terrell Suggs. T-Sizzle really is the potential difference-maker here. If he can rattle Tom Brady and get in the backfield with consistency, this becomes a vastly different scenario. New England's offensive line has suffered some down the stretch with injuries, and Suggs has had his way with the Pats at times in the past (see: Baltimore's playoff smackdown of New England two seasons ago). If Baltimore doesn't force a few turnovers and limit New England to under 10 possessions, the Ravens could get steamrolled in a track meet. Suggs being explosive off the edge, batting balls, hitting Brady and making the star quarterback consistently lift his feet adds bite to Baltimore defense. He is the one true dominant pass rusher on the team, and with Haloti Ngata ailing a bit the last six weeks or so, Suggs off the edge is even more vital. If Brady has time, it could be lights out. Cory Redding and the rest of the Ravens' defensive linemen should enjoy more success this week than they did against Houston a week ago, when they were outmuscled, frankly.
Chris Carr is likely to dress and has had success as a nickel slot guy, so he may see a fair amount of Wes Welker. While corner Lardarius Webb is playing at a Pro Bowl level, his size and skill set might not make him the best match on Welker and all of the quick stuff across the middle from the slot. Baltimore has to bracket Rob Gronkowski, attempting to derail him at the line of scrimmage and putting a safety -- likely Bernard Pollard -- on him as well. Baltimore won't have to put as many numbers at the line of scrimmage and will have to get a pass rush out of sub packages. Rookie corner Jimmy Smith might be the right matchup on Aaron Hernandez.
The Ravens believe they can run the ball on New England ... and most teams do. Baltimore should have used Ricky Williams more last week. Expect to see more power stuff with Williams to complement the outside zone stuff for Ray Rice. New England doesn't have the speed and pass rush that Houston did, which helped the Texans negate the screen game a week ago.
Lee Evans has to be a force on the outside to complement Torrey Smith, because otherwise Baltimore has essentially three tight ends -- Anquan Boldin is essentially a third tight end at this stage in his career. Baltimore's receivers often struggle to gain separation and though the Pats traditionally play a lot of zone, we may see some more man this week. Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich will have to be active in the pass rush. Baltimore's line has a chip on its shoulder after being overpowered by the Texans for big stretches of last week's game.
This will be a referendum on Baltimore coordinator Cam Cameron as well, in terms of dedication to the run game, milking the clock and keeping Brady off the field. Oh, and Ed Reed has a knack for showing up big in games like this. Just ask Brady and Bill Belichick, who marvel at his ability.