No fear is motto for visiting teams this weekend
The Patriots hold no fear for the Baltimore Ravens, not in the NFL playoffs, and definitely not in New England.
The Ravens have a history of playoff success in a stadium where the Patriots rarely lose, and meet in Foxborough again on Saturday for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Ravens are 2-1 there against the Patriots. Their only loss, 23-20, was sealed when Billy Cundiff lined up for a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left and shanked it in the 2012 AFC Championship game.
“Bring ’em on,” Baltimore linebacker Pernell McPhee said. “We’re going to go up there and play our best game. We’re going to play Ravens football. And with a great game plan, I know we’ll be ready for anything.”
No team over the past 40 years has traveled better in the postseason than the Ravens, whose 10 road wins are the most by any team since the 1970 merger.
No. 10 came at the expense of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, making Baltimore the only team to win on the road last weekend.
That provided the Ravens with the opportunity to eliminate the Patriots in New England, as they did in 2010 and 2013.
“It’s a business trip, certainly,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re the No. 1 seed and we’re the No. 6 seed. We understand what that means. But in the end, it’s a game.”
The Ravens have reached the postseason in six of Harbaugh’s seven years as their head coach. They are 7-4 on the road over that span, leaving Harbaugh tied with Tom Coughlin and Tom Landry for the most road wins since the merger.
Harbaugh says the team goes through the same routine, at home or away, and insists there’s no big secret to his success.
The Patriots are 15-4 at home during the postseason. Half of those defeats have come against the Ravens.
“They’re physically and mentally tough,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the Ravens. “They can play in tough situations and they’re talented. They keep coming at you.”
Both teams are led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Joe Flacco for the Ravens and Tom Brady for the Patriots.
Flacco has won his last five playoff games, throwing 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. After Baltimore won the 2013 Super Bowl, Flacco received a contract worth $120.6 million that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
To this point, it’s been a worthwhile investment. Although the Ravens went 8-8 and missed the playoffs last year, they’ve never had a losing record and are 82-44 (including the postseason) with Flacco as a starter. And he’s started every game since the outset of his rookie year.
Brady is 2-3 in his last five playoff games with seven touchdown passes and three interceptions. His offensive line should be back intact after left guard Dan Connolly missed the last two games with a knee injury.
For all the inherent hype surrounding quarterbacks Russell Wilson of Seattle and Cam Newton of Carolina entering the second playoff game on Saturday, this one could be determined by the teams’ two defensive play callers.
The past three meetings between the Seahawks and Panthers have resulted in low-scoring matchups, hardly a surprise given the men manning the middle of those defenses, Seattle’s Bobby Wagner and Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. The Seahawks won those games 16-12 in 2012, 12-7 in 2013 and 13-9 in October, although Wagner didn’t play in the most recent game due to a turf toe injury.
Kuechly was the catalyst for the Panthers holding the Arizona Cardinals to 78 yards in last week’s wild-card game, an NFL postseason record for fewest yards in a game.
Wagner is the driven leader of the Seattle defense, which has finished first in the league in each of the past two seasons.
“We’re the quarterback of the defense so we should get as much recognition as the quarterback,” Wagner said. “It’s a fun position. We’re in the middle of everything. We have a job during the run, have a job on the pass, get sacks, interceptions, tackles. We’re pretty much involved. It’s the best positon in my opinion.”
On Sunday, Green Bay hosts Dallas, Denver welcomes Indianapolis.