AFC North: 2013 Quick Takes AFC

Quick Take: Ravens at Patriots

January, 13, 2013
Five things to know about the Baltimore Ravens' matchup against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at Gillette Stadium:

1. Rematch doesn't favor Ravens. This marks the sixth time since the 1970 merger that the same two teams are playing in the conference championship game in back-to-back years. While the Ravens are motivated to settle the score after how last year's championship game ended, NFL history isn't on the Ravens' side. The teams that won the first meeting in the championship game are 5-0 in the rematch. The last time this happened in the AFC was 1986 and 1987, when the Broncos beat the Browns both times to go to the Super Bowl. The Ravens are 1-2 in AFC championship games, beating the Raiders in the 2000 season before losing to the Steelers in the 2008 season and the Patriots last year.

2. The deep ball. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has excelled at throwing deep downfield in the playoffs. He has averaged 20.4 yards per completion in the postseason. Of his 30 completions, 11 have been 20 yards or longer. Four of Flacco's five touchdowns have gone for 70, 59, 32 and 20 yards. The Patriots were the 29th-ranked pass defense because of their inability to stop big plays. New England gave up 74 passes of 20 yards or longer in the regular season, the most in the NFL. In the first meeting with the Patriots this season, Flacco brought back the Ravens from a 13-0 deficit with touchdown passes of 25 yards to Torrey Smith and 20 yards to Dennis Pitta in the second quarter.

3. Road tested. The Ravens have had their struggles away from M&T Bank Stadium over the past two seasons, but they rise to the occasion on the road come playoff time. Since 2008, when Flacco became quarterback and John Harbaugh was hired as coach, the Ravens have the most road playoff wins in the NFL with five. That includes winning Saturday at top-seeded Denver, where Broncos had only lost three times in 16 home playoff games. Flacco's five road playoff victories are tied with Eli Manning for the most in NFL history.

4. Coming up with picks. Baltimore has caused Tom Brady fits recently, which is why the Patriots quarterback is 2-2 against the Ravens in his last four meetings. Over that span, Brady has thrown four touchdown passes against the Ravens while getting picked off seven times. Where Brady has gotten into trouble against Baltimore is throwing deep. Six of Brady’s last seven interceptions against the Ravens have come on passes thrown over 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Interceptions have played a big part in the Ravens' playoff success. Baltimore has an NFL-leading 20 picks in the postseason, including two against Peyton Manning in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game.

5. Which Ray shows up? Not talking about linebacker Ray Lewis, who leads the NFL with 30 tackles this postseason. The player in question is running back Ray Rice. In his first playoff game in New England, he ran for an 83-yard touchdown, the second-longest run in NFL playoff history. He finished with a franchise playoff record 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Last year in the AFC championship game, Rice was held to 67 yards on 21 carries, a 3.2-yard average. His longest run was 12 yards. Rice ended a playoff rut in Saturday's divisional playoff game, where he gained 131 yards and scored a touchdown. The Ravens are 6-0 in the playoffs when they have a 100-yard rusher.

Quick Take: Ravens at Broncos

January, 6, 2013
Five things to know about Saturday’s Baltimore Ravens-Denver Broncos playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

1. Can Ravens end Manning's mastery? Baltimore hasn't beaten Peyton Manning since 2001, when the Ravens were defending Super Bowl champions and Ray Lewis was the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Ravens have lost nine straight times to Manning, including twice in the playoffs. It was only three weeks ago when the Ravens kept Manning in check (204 yards and one touchdown) but still lost. In their previous postseason game against Manning, the Ravens allowed him to complete 68 percent of his passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns.

2. The hot hand: Anquan Boldin has stepped up in his past two games, catching 12 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown. He had 145 yards receiving Sunday, a Ravens playoff record, and he did it all in the second half. This hot streak came after the Broncos held him without a catch last month. Boldin averaged five catches in Ravens' wins in the regular season and 2.6 receptions in losses. He also has three touchdowns in five playoff games with the Ravens.

3. Road-tested: The Broncos are 13-3 in home playoff games, but the Ravens are battle-tested when it comes to playing on the road in the postseason. The Ravens' 7-5 playoff road record is the second-best since the 1970 merger. Since 2008, when John Harbaugh became coach, Baltimore's four road wins in the playoffs are tied for the most in the league with the Jets. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won at Miami, Tennessee, New England and Kansas City in the postseason.

4. Stingy in the postseason: The Ravens have been a bend-but-don't-break defense all season, and they held the Colts to three field goals Sunday. Although this defense hasn't been as dominant as ones in years past, it followed a strong trend in the playoffs. The Ravens have held teams to 10 or fewer points in nine playoff games since 2000. No other team has more than four such games during that span. Denver was the second-highest-scoring team in the NFL this season, averaging 30.1 points per game.

5. Flacco's turnaround: It's hard to forget Joe Flacco having an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. What few remember is that's the last interception thrown by the Ravens quarterback. Flacco has not thrown a pick in 92 straight passes. The Ravens are 6-0 this season when Flacco doesn't throw an interception in a game where he plays four quarters.

Quick Take: Bengals at Texans

December, 30, 2012
Five things to know about next weekend's Cincinnati Bengals-Houston Texans wild-card game at Reliant Stadium:

1. Another streak to end. The Bengals, who earned back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1981-82, can stop another dubious streak. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991. It was so long ago that the Bengals beat Houston when the city had the Oilers. The 21 seasons without a postseason victory is the longest current drought in the NFL. The Bengals have been to the playoffs three times since then and have been bounced in their first postseason game, including last season's 31-10 loss at Houston. Cincinnati is hoping the rematch will be different this time around considering where the teams have been headed. The Texans (12-4) have lost three of their last four games, and the Bengals (10-6) have won seven of their past eight.

2. Andy Dalton has to limit turnovers. The play that stands out from last season's playoff loss in Houston was Dalton's pass getting picked off at the line of scrimmage by J.J. Watt, who returned it for a touchdown just before halftime. That trend continued this season for Dalton, who has had four interceptions returned for touchdowns. Dalton turned the ball over 20 times in the first 15 games this season and nearly had a fumble Sunday (it was overturned on replay) in one half of work. The Texans have 29 takeaways this season, which ranks among the best in the AFC. Nine players on the Texans have intercepted passes this season. The pressure will really be on Dalton if running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' injury is significant. His hamstring tightened in pregame warmups, which forced him to sit out the regular-season finale.

3. Sizzling defense against fizzling offense. There is not a defense in the league playing better than that of the Bengals. The Cincinnati defense has scored touchdowns the past three weeks, including returning two interceptions for scores. The Bengals have held opponents to 12.8 points over the past eight games. The Texans, meanwhile, have gone cold offensively. Houston has scored one touchdown in its last 10 quarters.

4. Applying the pressure. A big key will be how much pressure the Bengals' front four can apply on quarterback Matt Schaub. Led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and defensive end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks), the Bengals set a team record with 51 sacks this season. Schaub has only been sacked 27 times this season, but 10 have come in the past three games.

5. Going deep. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has become one of the top deep threats in the NFL. Look for Cincinnati to take advantage of a Houston secondary that has been reeling recently. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Texans have allowed opponents to complete 60 percent of passes that go 30 yards or more downfield. That includes six touchdowns over their last seven games, which is the most in the league since Week 11.

Quick Take: Colts at Ravens

December, 30, 2012
Five things to know about next weekend's Indianapolis Colts-Baltimore Ravens AFC wild-card Game at M&T Bank Stadium:

1. No quick exits. The Ravens (10-6) are limping into the playoffs having lost four of their past five games. But coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have never been one-and-done in the playoffs. The Ravens have won at least one playoff game for the past four seasons, and they've done it in impressive style. Under Harbaugh and Flacco, Baltimore's average margin of victory in its first playoff game has been 16.7 points. The last time the Ravens made the postseason and didn't win a playoff game was January 2007, when they fell to the Colts. Of course, Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Colts, not Andrew Luck.

2. Ray Rice factor. It's a well-known fact that the Ravens' chances of winning increase when they put the ball in the hands of Rice. Since drafting him in 2008, the Ravens are 23-3 (.885) when Rice gets 25 or more touches. They are 12-12 (.500) when he gets 15 or fewer. Rice should be busy in the wild-card game if the Ravens attack the weakness of the Colts' defense. Indianapolis entered the final week of the regular season ranked 30th against the run, allowing 139.9 yards rushing per game and 5.1 yards per carry. The Ravens will get some insight on the Colts defense from offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who was Indianapolis' head coach from 2009 to 2011.

3. Stingy defense. There is a possibility that linebacker Ray Lewis will return this week, just 12 weeks removed from tearing his triceps on Oct. 14. Without Lewis, the Ravens have maintained a bend but don't break philosophy. This isn't the same dominant group from last season when Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator, but Baltimore has been among the best defenses in the red zone this season. The Ravens are 8-0 when they hold teams to 20 or fewer points. They are 2-6 when they allow more than 20 points. The Ravens tried to get their banged-up defense healthier by resting four defensive starters Sunday: Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) and safety Bernard Pollard (chest). This veteran defense is 2-1 against rookie quarterbacks this season, beating Brandon Weeden twice and losing to the combination of Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. Now, the Ravens get the Colts (11-5) and Luck, the No. 1 overall pick of this year's draft.

4. Protecting Flacco. The Ravens did a stellar job in not allowing a sack in Flacco's last full game a week ago. But pass protection is a big issue for Baltimore in these playoffs. Flacco was sacked eight times in the Ravens' three-game losing streak this month. While Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis aren't among the best pass rushers in the NFL anymore, the Ravens have struggled against speed rushers. Left tackle Michael Oher has allowed eight sacks this season and right tackle Kelechi Osemele has given up seven. Osemele also was injured in Sunday's regular-season finale.

5. Return game. Jacoby Jones was available for the Ravens to sign this offseason because he muffed a punt that led to the Texans' playoff loss to Baltimore. Jones will have a chance to have a better showing against the Colts, who rank in the bottom half of the NFL in punt and kickoff coverage. In being named to his first Pro Bowl, Jones has three returns for touchdowns this season (two on kickoff and one on punt).