The Ravens aren’t a division rival of the Patriots, it just feels that way because the teams seem to so often meet in meaningful contests.
As quarterback Tom Brady said on Monday about preparing for the Ravens, “We've played them enough where we know the players, we know their strengths.”
But while the Patriots are largely familiar with the Ravens, here’s a cliff-notes version of what the AFC North champions are all about.
Record: 12-6 (AFC North champions, fourth seed in the AFC)
Head coach: John Harbaugh (fourth season, 61-30)
Offensive coordinator: Jim Caldwell
Defensive coordinator: Dean Pees (former Patriots defensive coordinator)
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. RB Ray Rice. The Patriots faced one of the NFL’s best running backs on Sunday in Arian Foster, and the challenge won’t get any easier in slowing down Ray Rice, perhaps the best receiving back in all of football. While not big in stature, Rice is a lightning quick player with a low center of gravity, excellent open field speed and agility, and deceptive power. He does it all for Baltimore, serving as a blocker in pass protection and setting the tone on the ground.
2. QB Joe Flacco. Perhaps the most high-profile quarterback set to enter free agency this offseason, Flacco shined Saturday night in Denver, throwing three touchdown passes and showing major moxie in outperforming Peyton Manning. While not an overly athletic talent, Flacco has enough mobility to scramble north-south out of the pocket, but he’s at his best when he has time to unleash throws with his tremendous arm strength. His playoff track record speaks for itself, as he’s the only quarterback in NFL history to start and win at least one playoff game in his first five seasons.
3. WR Torrey Smith. Smith overcame unbelievable adversity to star against the Patriots back in Week 3, catching two touchdowns just hours after the death of his brother. The uber-fast second year player can get down the field in a hurry, and burned All-Everything cornerback Champ Bailey for two touchdowns this past Saturday night. He keys the Ravens' vertical passing game.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. LB Ray Lewis. Lewis returned to the field at the start of the playoffs and injected life into a team that stumbled into the postseason. He also announced that this season will be his last in the NFL, and it appears as though his team is riding the emotion of his farewell to the NFL and turning it into success on the field. Lewis is not the athlete he used to be, but is an undeniably instinctive player who was a force against the run versus Denver. The emotion and leadership he brings to his team seems to permeate throughout the defense, and Lewis leads all players with 30 tackles thus far in the postseason.
2. S Ed Reed. It’s probably not a stretch to say that Reed will one day go down as the greatest free safety to ever step foot on a field in the NFL, and Bill Belichick has in the past to shared tremendous reverence for his game. Reed has virtually unlimited range and has a nose for the football down the field. Tom Brady has said prior to previous meetings with Baltimore that ID-ing him before the snap is critical, and the same will hold true this Sunday.
3. DT Haloti Ngata. Ngata earned yet another invitation to the Pro Bowl after a stellar 2012 season during which he finished with 51 tackles and five sacks. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound immovable force is athletic, powerful and quick, and a player that can disrupt a running play before the back even has the football. Much like J.J. Watt a week ago, the Patriots will have to have a plan to slow down Ngata, the Vince Wilfork of their defense.
2012 SEASON RECAP
The Ravens' regular season was something of an up-and-down ride, as after racing out to a 9-2 start the team dropped four of its last five games to fall out of contention for a top-two seed in the AFC. An injury to Lewis dramatically affected the defense, and top cornerback Lardarius Webb was also lost. Flacco was inconsistent throughout the year, finishing with a QBR of just 46.8. But the Ravens have looked like a different team this postseason, beating the Colts in the wild-card round before upsetting the Broncos. The Ravens have played inspired, tough, physical football, and will be a true test this Sunday. A final element to mention about the Ravens is their outstanding kick return game, led by Jacoby Jones, an All-Pro this season who brought two kickoffs back for touchdowns. Containing him will be a key for the Patriots this Sunday.