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Setting the scene: Championship Sunday Patriots-Ravens

01.22.12 at 11:02 am ET
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From left to right, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Vince Wilfork are ready for AFC championship Sunday. (Mike Petraglia, WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Mother Nature has cleared her slate while the Gillette Stadium crews have cleared the several inches of snow that fell between Thursday and Saturday, and the stage is set for the Ravens and Patriots to battle for the first ticket to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30s are expected at 3 p.m. ET. Winds out of the northeast between five and 10 MPH will produce a wind chill in the low 20s. Still, it won’t be nearly as cold as last Saturday night when the wind chill dipped near zero.

The Patriots are hosting their fourth AFC championship. They have won their previous three, beating Jacksonville in the 1996 contest at old Foxboro Stadium, beating Indianapolis in 2003 and besting San Diego in 2007.

Overall, the Patriots are making their seventh appearance in the ultimate AFC game, losing only in 2006 when they blew a 21-6 halftime lead in Indianapolis and lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Today, the team will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the 1996 AFC champions when they introduce four members of that squad as honorary captains. Troy Brown, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Drew Bledsoe will head to midfield for the coin flip while baseball hall of famer and Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken will do the honors for the Ravens.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced on the Patriots All-Access show on Saturday night that if the Patriots win, Bledsoe will have the privilege of handing off the Lamar Hunt AFC championship trophy to coach Bill Belichick and the team.

A game of hard hitting figures to get off to a rocking start as Aerosmith lead vocal and superstar Steven Tyler will sing the national anthem.

As for the game itself, the inactive list shouldn’t be a big factor as both teams are relatively healthy.

The Patriots took quarterback Tom Brady off their injury report on Friday. He missed practice on Wednesday but was back to full participation on Thursday with a left shoulder injury. The NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported Friday Brady is dealing with a sprained AC joint in the shoulder that will require six weeks of rest and treatment to get back to full strength. Brady – who set an NFL postseason record last Saturday with five first-half TD passes – hasn’t seen his performance fall off. Brady and the team are monitoring the shoulder as Brady deals with the discomfort.

The Patriots listed 14 players as questionable in their final injury report on Friday, including Patrick Chung (knee), Wes Welker (knee), Deion Branch (knee), Aaron Hernandez (concussion) and Nate Solder (concussion). All are expected to play.

The Ravens, meanwhile, listed just one player – Ed Reed – on their injury report all week. The perennial Pro Bowl safety injured his left ankle on Houston’s “Hail Mary” at the end of the game last Sunday. He was limited on Wednesday and Thursday but returned to full participation on Friday and was listed as probable. He will almost certainly will start today for the Ravens at free safety.

Here’s the full rundown of the Patriots in the AFC championship game:
1/12/86 Patriots 31, Dolphins 14 in Miami
1/12/97 Patriots 20, Jaguars 6 in Foxboro
1/27/02 Patriots 24, Steelers 17 in Pittsburgh
1/18/04 Patriots 24, Colts 14 in Foxboro
1/23/05 Patriots 41, Steelers 27 in Pittsburgh
1/21/07 Colts 38, Patriots 34 in Indianapolis
1/20/08 Patriots 21, Chargers 12 in Foxboro

Some other notes:

  • The Ravens are the only NFL team to have won a playoff game in each of the last four seasons, including last Sunday’s 20-13 win over the Texans in Baltimore.
  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh is the first NFL coach in history to win a game in each of his first four seasons in the playoffs. He had been tied with Cowboys’ Barry Switzer at three seasons.
  • Patriots are 12-3 overall at home in the playoffs.
  • Read More: 2012 playoffs, Aerosmith, AFC Championship, Baltimore Orioles Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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