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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

In Ravens and Patriots, the NFL Playoffs Just Got an Extra Ingredient: Hate

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AP Photo


So itíll be the Ravens. Whyís everybody so a-scared?

The most deplorable organization in American professional sports punched its ticket for a playoff rematch with the New England Patriots next weekend in Foxborough with a convincing 30-17 win over the No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday night. The Baltimore Ravens and New England will meet in the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons, and the previous three contests havenít been pretty for the Patriots.

In the 2009 playoffs, former Baltimore running back Ray Rice broke off the first play from scrimmage and set the tone for a 33-14 Ravens victory.

Two years ago, the Patriotsí rematch in the AFC Championship game with the Ravens didnít go so hot with the absence of Rob Gronkowski, who underwent surgery after breaking his arm in a playoff rout against the Houston Texans. Baltimore rolled, 28-13.

Even in their 2011 AFC title game win, the Patriots had the good fortune of watching Lee Evans drop a sure touchdown, and Billy Cundiff blunder an easy field goal attempt in order to reach the Super Bowl with a 23-20 win.

Only the Ravens and New York Jets have waltzed into Gillette Stadium in January and emerged victorious. And the Ravens have done it twice.

ďYouíve done it before, so you think you can do it again,Ē Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who returned to the Ravens Saturday night after sitting out a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, said.

Itís true that maybe the Ravens were the worst potential opponent for the AFCís top seed, if only because John Harbaughís team has proven it isnít a unit that will pee its pads the moment it sees the makeshift lighthouse. As the No. 2 seed, the Denver Broncos just got gift-wrapped either the Indianapolis Colts or the Cincinnati Bengals in next weekendís divisional round, either of whom would presumably have come to Foxborough and gotten demoralized on Saturday afternoon.

No. Instead, the Patriots drew the more difficult card in their quest to return to Glendale, Ariz.

So what?

New England has already opened as 7 1/2-point favorites over the Ravens, who smothered the Steelers with familiar playoff names like Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs leading the way. The absence of LeíVeon Bell, sitting out with a knee injury, was a glaring one for Pittsburgh, who had trouble moving the ball down field the entire evening.

Do the Ravens present specific problems for the Patriots to deal with? Yes, and Suggsí presence against New Englandís schizophrenic offensive line is near the top of the list.

But Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ought to be able to pick apart the Ravensí decimated defensive backfield like Roethlisberger could not do on Saturday night, provided that Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are healthy enough to contribute as offensive weapons along with Gronkowski. And hope to God nothing happens to the All-Pro tight end.

The Ravens were the only team that would be headed to Foxborough Saturday that the Patriots hadnít already faced during the regular season. The last time New England faced Baltimore, the Patriots essentially knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs with a 41-7 demolition two Decembers ago.

Itís better this way. In beating the Ravens on Saturday, the Patriots can shut some people up (mainly, the Ravens) about the luck factor in getting past Baltimore in the Cundiff game. They can enact their own form of justice on a franchise that has further proven itself to be a despicable, blind-eye machine in the wake of the Rice scandal that rocked the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell this season.

I mean, my God. This is still up on the Ravensí website.

The Ravens are brash, a characteristic that once defined them under former linebacker Ray Lewis, one of the reasons for their recent postseason success.

Theyíre also the most hated team in the NFL. Ninety-eight percent of the country will be rooting for the Patriots on Saturday, and mind you this is a nation that still likes to accuse Bill Belichick of somehow attaining all his success because of Memorex.

It's also a group that, of course, includes Suggs.

"These are the most arrogant [expletives] in the world," Suggs said, "starting with Belichick on down Ö [It's] funny, ever since Spygate, they haven't been able to win."

But in fact, Belichickís job should be easy this week. Thereís extra motivation in beating the Ravens. Colts? Bengals? Layup.

With Baltimore thereís much more.

Everybody hates the Ravens.

Everybody.

Itís a more difficult matchup, but what did you expect? Itís the playoffs. But the Patriots are better now than when they faced this team each of the last three times in the playoffs.

And the Ravens, simply, are not as good.

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