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National prognosticators favor Patriots over Ravens

01.20.12 at 3:59 pm ET
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Bill Belichick would be the first to tell you that media predictions are meaningless, but for what it’s worth, the Patriots are the popular pick to win Sunday’s AFC championship game and advance to another Super Bowl.

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk predicts New England will win by a score of 27-20. Florio notes that the maligned Patriots defense has shown significant signs of improvement over the last several weeks and that the team as a whole will have extra motivation on its side.

Wrote Florio: The internal offense-vs.-defense strife in Baltimore seems to be real, and it could lead to an ugly confrontation on the sidelines if the Pats jump out to an early lead and the Ravens can’t respond. Also, the Pats’ defense quietly is improving.

Throw in the fact that the Patriots would love to give owner Robert Kraft something about which to feel good as he continues to mourn his wife’s passing (Myra Kraft’s initials remain on their jerseys), Tom Brady’s memory of a home thrashing two years ago from the Ravens, and a burning desire by Brady and Bill Belichick to finally get that fourth championship, and it’s hard to envision the Patriots losing.

Florio’s PFT counterpart Gregg Rosenthal also picks the Patriots to advance in a closely-contested 31-27 game. For Rosenthal, the vaunted Ravens defense has not proven that it will be able to contain a potent New England offense that ranked third in the NFL in the regular season with 32.1 points per game.

Wrote Rosenthal: Is the Ravens defense more dominant than the Patriots offense? After watching Houston’s running game push Baltimore around last week, I’m rolling with the Patriots there. Terrell Suggs disappears too often. New England’s tight ends are too hard to defend.

On the other side of the argument is FoxSports.com’s Peter Schrager, who calls for a 30-27 Ravens upset, citing the Baltimore defense as his primary reason.

Wrote Schrager: I know it sounds crazy, but I like the Ravens on Sunday. Like the Cowboys did earlier this season vs. New England, the defense should stifle Brady just enough to give the offense a chance. And unlike the Cowboys earlier this season, the Ravens offense will be able to get the job done.

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Jerod Mayo on M&M: ‘Sense of urgency here’

01.20.12 at 12:44 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Friday, two days before the showdown with the Ravens for the AFC championship. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“There’s a sense of urgency here,” Mayo said. “We feel like we’re ready to go. We’ve got a good game plan, and hopefully we can execute it on Sunday.”

Patriots players and coaches credited the team’s practices before the Broncos game as a key to the team’s success in the blowout victory. Asked how practice has been going this week, Mayo said: “Practice has been good. We’ve put in some different things, some different looks. been working on a lot of Baltimore stuff. They’ll be a challenge. It’s all about going out there and executing, and hopefully we can get it done.”

Joe Flacco has received a lot of criticism for his play, but Mayo said statements that the Ravens quarterback is unable or unwilling to move around the pocket aren’t accurate.

“Watching him these last couple of games, he’s been moving all right,” Mayo said. “I’ve seen a couple of runs where he’s run for like 40 yards on a play. So, I don’t know where these people are getting that from. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s Michael Vick, but at the same time, he’s not immobile. He can move around a little bit.”

Read More: Jerod Mayo, joe flacco,

Drew Bledsoe named fourth honorary captain for Sunday’s game

01.20.12 at 12:27 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Friday that former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be one of the honorary captains for Sunday’€™s AFC championship game against the Ravens. The club previously announced that former wide receiver Troy Brown, linebacker Tedy Bruschi and cornerback Ty Law were the first two members of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC championship team, as well as the 2001 team.

Read More: Drew Bledsoe, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Ty Law

Poll: Who will be MVP of Sunday’s AFC championship game?

01.20.12 at 10:40 am ET
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Who will be the MVP of Sunday's AFC championship game?

  • Tom Brady (51%, 164 Votes)
  • Rob Gronkowski (17%, 56 Votes)
  • Aaron Hernandez (6%, 20 Votes)
  • Tim Tebow (6%, 18 Votes)
  • Wes Welker (5%, 16 Votes)
  • A Patriots defensive or special teams player (4%, 13 Votes)
  • A different Patriots offensive player (4%, 12 Votes)
  • Ray Rice (4%, 12 Votes)
  • Joe Flacco (2%, 6 Votes)
  • BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1%, 4 Votes)
  • Anquan Boldin (0%, 1 Votes)
  • A Ravens defensive or special teams player (0%, 1 Votes)
  • A different Ravens offensive player (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 323

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Poll: Who will win Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game?

01.20.12 at 10:32 am ET
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Who wins Sunday's AFC championship game?

  • Patriots in a close game (52%, 231 Votes)
  • Patriots in a blowout (34%, 151 Votes)
  • Ravens in a close game (12%, 53 Votes)
  • Ravens in a blowout (2%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 448

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Patrick Chung brings a sense of stability back to Patriots secondary

01.19.12 at 7:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s no coincidence that since safety Patrick Chung returned to the starting lineup, the Patriots defense has strung together seven of its most consistent quarters of the season.

Chung, who was sidelined for seven games with a foot injury he suffered in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants, made his way back for the regular-season finale against the Bills on Jan. 1. And since the end of the first quarter of the win over Buffalo through the divisional playoffs last week against Denver, the New England defense has yielded one touchdown and 10 total points. Against the Broncos, the Patriots allowed 252 net yards, their lowest total allowed on the season.

During a year in which New England discarded veteran safeties like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, when he’€™s been healthy, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Chung has been a steady, stabilizing presence in the secondary, providing support for the Patriots’€™ back line. For the season, the 24-year-old Chung was sixth on the team with 67 tackles (39 solo), to go along with one sack, two quarterback hits, one interception and four passes defensed.

‘€œPatrick brings a good level of experience. He’€™s been through a lot in terms of all our calls and adjustments,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘€œPatrick is a smart guy. He understands concepts, he’€™s well prepared and he had a good level of experience. He’€™s been out there in all situations: first down, second down, third down, fourth down. He takes that experience to all those situations and he’€™s got good confidence.’€

‘€œIt means a lot [to get him back],’€ linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Chung’€™s return. ‘€œWe had a lot of different guys back there, and any time you can get consistency anywhere on the defensive side of the football, you’€™ll have a better defense. So it’€™s good to get him back, it’€™s good to get [Brandon] Spikes back and hopefully we continue to improve.’€

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Meriweather, Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty

Bill Belichick: Lots of ‘fond memories’ but no time for 10th anniversary of ‘Snow Bowl’

01.19.12 at 5:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was arguably one of the most important games in NFL history and certainly the turning point for the Patriots franchise.

The snow began falling late in the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002. It didn’t stop until well after Adam Vinatieri‘s third field goal of the night split the uprights on New England’s first possession of overtime, sending the Patriots onto Pittsburgh and the AFC championship in Pittsburgh the next week.

That was 10 years ago and Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the game that propelled Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on their way to careers that will someday be recognized with busts in Canton.

But on Thursday morning, when Belichick was asked about one of the most important games of his career, he just stopped briefly to recognize it before insisting all of the team’s focus is on making sure they’re prepared to capture the franchise’s seventh AFC championship.

“It was a great game, it was a great night and of course a lot of fond memories but [we’€™re] really just trying to get on to Baltimore,” Belichick said. “We’€™ve had a lot of big wins in the past, we’€™ve had a lot of great games, we’€™ve lost games. Right now none of those really I think have too much impact on what’€™s going on this week. We’€™re really trying to keep our sights focused on Sunday’€™s game. It’€™s a one-game season, we’€™ve worked all year for that. We’€™ve worked hard for the last six months to put ourselves in that position and now it’€™s time for us to go out there and do our best with it. With all due respect to other games, other teams, other situations, it’€™s really not the forefront now.”

So, it came as no surprise earlier when Belichick was asked by an out-of-town reporter whether offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien‘s role has changed this week and whether he’ll make a good head coach at Penn State.

“We’€™re definitely all focused on the game with Baltimore and that’€™s what our team is preparing for,” Belichick said. “He’€™s done what we’€™ve asked him to do last week and this week and hopefully we’€™ll be able to play well on Sunday.”

Read More: 2012 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri, AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens

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