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Baltimore at New England

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The Patriots needed a pair of plays to go their way in last January's AFC Championship against the Ravens. A dropped touchdown by Lee Evans and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff propelled New England to its fifth AFC title in 11 seasons, as the two teams meet once again for the conference championship at Gillette Stadium.

New England hasn't won a Super Bowl since January 2005 when the Patriots edged the Eagles in Jacksonville, as the Pats have lost each of their last two Super Bowls to the Giants. New York is long gone, but that fourth elusive title for Bill Belichick seems to be within reach again. The Pats overcame a slow 1-2 start to the season to win 11 of their final 13 games, as both losses came to playoff teams in San Francisco and Seattle.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens won a playoff game for the fifth straight season after claiming an AFC North title for the second consecutive year at 10-6. Baltimore took care of Indianapolis in the Wild Card round, 24-9 as 7 ½-point favorites, but the Ravens rallied past the Broncos in an epic divisional playoff showdown last Saturday.

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The Ravens entered Denver as 9 ½-point road underdogs, but overcame a pair of kick returns for scores by Trindon Holliday to tie the Broncos at 28-28 after three quarters. Peyton Manning's 17-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas in the fourth quarter seemed like enough to push the Broncos into the AFC Championship, but Flacco proved to make the clutch plays. Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard fling down the field to tie the game at 35-35, forcing overtime. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker sent the Ravens to the AFC Championship with a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime, a welcome sighting for Baltimore fans after the Cundiff miss prevented the Ravens from a Super Bowl appearance a year ago.

The Patriots used the bye week to their advantage with a comfortable 41-28 triumph over the Texans in the second AFC divisional playoff game. New England beat up Houston for the second time in a month, as the Pats cashed as 9 ½-point 'chalk.' The Pats' offense sliced up the Texans again, scoring a combined 83 points in the two wins over the AFC South champions, while Tom Brady tossed three touchdown passes and threw for 344 yards. New England's offense eclipsed the 'over' for the seventh time in nine home contests, as the Pats broke the 34-point mark for the ninth time this season.

Baltimore and New England met back in Week 3 at M&T Stadium in a Sunday night thriller, as the Ravens rallied late for a 31-30 victory. The Pats managed a cover as 2 ½-point underdogs, but New England squandered a 13-0 advantage and even led by nine points in the final quarter. The Ravens scored the final 10 points of the contest, including a disputed field goal at the gun by Tucker, as the replacement officials called the kick good even though replays indicated it may have gone wide of the right upright.

Last season's AFC Championship was a back-and-forth affair that ended with Baltimore failing to score in a 23-20 loss at New England. The Ravens managed a cover as seven-point 'dogs, as John Harbaugh's club held a four-point advantage heading into the final quarter. Brady's short touchdown run less than four minutes into the fourth quarter gave the Patriots the lead for good, as the game finished 'under' the total of 50.

New England has struggled to cover numbers in the AFC title game, posting an 0-3 ATS record the last three times in the conference championship ('06 vs. Colts, '07 vs. Chargers, '11 vs. Ravens). In Harbaugh's tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens have slightly profited as a road 'dog in the playoffs by putting together a 4-3 ATS ledger since 2008.

The last road team to win the AFC Championship was the '05 Steelers, who routed the Broncos, 34-17 in Denver. The home club has covered four of the last six conference title games, while the Ravens are playing in their fourth AFC title game in franchise history, all on the road.

The Patriots are listed as 7 ½-point favorites, as money has come in on the Ravens all week. The total is set at 51 ½, but the weather conditions will not be cozy as the temperature is expected to dip into the 30's. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 PM EST from Gillette Stadium as the game can be seen nationally on CBS.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at rogers@vegasinsider.com

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

  
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