Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/16/13

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots gestures as he lines up in the shotgun formation against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
On Sunday afternoon, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco will match up for the sixth time in their careers. So far in the budding rivalry, Brady has taken three games to Flacco’s two. In those games, Flacco has thrown for 1,271 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Brady has thrown for 1,278 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Flacco has completed 64.7 percent of his passes to Brady’s 62.1. Despite New England’s three victories in those matchups, Flacco has actually been better that Brady — playing against the flimsy Patriots’ defense has obviously helped the Ravens’ quarterback  and playing against Baltimore’s stout defense has hurt Brady. One thing is very clear: Flacco steps up his game when he has to play New England, whether it’s in Foxboro or Baltimore. Now the question is, will Flacco and the Ravens even up the two teams’ record since 2008? Or will the Patriots avenge their Week 3 loss in Baltimore? Four of the five games between Baltimore and New England have taken place inside the confines of Gillette Stadium. In those games, the Patriots are 3-1, with the only loss coming that fateful night on Sunday Jan. 10 when Ray Rice and the Ravens got off to a hot start and never let their foot off the pedal. That was the only time the two teams have played twice in a season since Flacco was drafted No. 18 overall in April, 2008. The Patriots are a completely different team compared to 2009, and they even look much different than when they last played on Sept. 23 of this year. It seems hard to believe that it was just four years ago, but back in that 2009 playoff game Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Adalius Thomas, Shawn Springs, Brandon Meriweather and Junior Seau were still playing a major role in the defense. The only players still on the 2012 roster that played on that defense were Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Myron Pryor (currently on injured reserve) and Patrick Chung, who played just one snap and likely won’t play a major role on Sunday evening either. Bill Belichick obviously noticed a severe flaw in the Patriots’ defense, and though it’s taken a while to develop, he’s rebuilt the unit around players like Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Since the first time these two teams played this year, New England has experienced even more turnover. The Ravens were constantly challenging the Patriots’ defense deep, attempting 10 passes over 20 yards, while connecting on five of those. Since that time, Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard have emerged as starters at cornerback, Devin McCourty has moved to safety, Kyle Arrington has moved to the slot and Brandon Deaderick has emerged as a starter at the 3-technique defensive tackle position next to Vince Wilfork, while Kyle Love had been starting there before. For the Patriots to win, a lot will depend on Brady and the New England secondary. Simply said, those stats we mentioned earlier for Brady in his five matchups against the Flacco and John Harbaugh-led Ravens have been poor. If he churns out another game with more turnovers than touchdowns, the Patriots could lose. Flacco does not let up in the playoffs, nor does he let up against the Patriots. His play in the postseason and against the Patriots have been better than his career averages. Because of the budding Ravens-Patriots rivalry, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this game. The fact that this could be Ray Lewis‘ last game in the NFL doesn’t hurt matters either. The NFL was wise to schedule the AFC Championship Game in the prime time slot when they set the playoff schedule, and it will pay off on Sunday night. Quarterbacks get the most press, publicity and protection for a reason. All eyes will be focused on Brady and Flacco on Sunday night, and as long as Brady stays in the league, this will be a fun rivalry to monitor. During Brady’s time in the NFL, Peyton Manning has been his biggest rival. But three postseason matchups in four years with Baltimore should sway that over to Flacco as Brady’s career winds down. And on Sunday night, the game may be decided by which quarterback plays best.
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