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Sunday, January 15, 2012
Quick Take: Ravens at Patriots

By Jamison Hensley

Three things to know about Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the second-seeded Baltimore Ravens (13-4) and top-seeded New England Patriots (14-3):

1. Protect Joe Flacco: The Ravens quarterback will get criticized for the fact that he completed 14 of 27 passes against the Houston Texans. But Flacco didn't get much help from the offensive line. He was sacked a season-high five times (matching his total at San Diego last month) and it was mainly against Houston's front four. New England showed an aggressive pass rush against Denver, sacking Tim Tebow five times. The Patriots ranked 14th in the NFL in the regular season with 40 sacks.

2. Cover the tight ends: The focus of the Ravens' pass defense will be slowing  New England's tight ends. Rob Gronkowki and Aaron Hernandez combined for 14 catches for 200 yards and four touchdowns in the divisional playoffs. Baltimore hasn't faced many elite tight ends this year, but it has contained a few good ones. The Ravens limited the likes of San Diego's Antonio Gates (two catches for 31 yards) and San Francisco's Vernon Davis (four for 38 yards). Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham (five for 72 yards) and Pittsburgh's Heath Miller (five for 73) have had solid games against Baltimore.

3. Get the ball in Ray Rice's hands: The Ravens are 9-0 this season when Rice gets at least 20 carries in a game, even though he was held to 60 yards on 21 carries (2.9 yards per attempt) in the divisional-round win against Houston. The last time the Ravens played a postseason game in New England, Rice scored on the first offensive play of the game -- running 83 yards for a touchdown. It was the second-longest run in NFL postseason history and set the pace for a 33-14 win for the Ravens. New England ranked 24th in yards given up per carry (4.6) this season.