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Home sure is sweet to Patriots

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Home sure is sweet to Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Home sweet home. Sure works for the Patriots in the AFC title game.

New England gets a chance to extend its mastery in the final step to the Super Bowl on Sunday against Baltimore, the team the Patriots beat a year ago for the conference crown. That win made them 4-0 in home conference title games.

Although they were more vulnerable at home than usual during the 2012 regular season, losing to Arizona and San Francisco and having tight games with Buffalo and the Jets, the Patriots (13-4) are happy not to be heading to Baltimore (12-6) this weekend. Or anywhere else.

``Everything is on deck,'' Patriots Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ``You have to put everything you have into this game. If you lose you go home, plain and simple.''

But the Patriots are at home, where they've been beaten in early-round games, including against the Ravens 33-14 three years ago. At this stage, though, no way.

That success rate for the AFC championship doesn't fool Wilfork into feeling complacent. Just the opposite.

``This team always plays us tough,'' Wilfork added. ``This team has been in the playoffs on the road and won a lot of games. They won here in the playoffs. We have to be able to prepare well and execute very well at a high level. I don't think we can (leave) no stone unturned in this game, because if we do it could cost us.''

The Patriots are one of the NFL's best home teams, going 73-15 since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, including 10-2 in the postseason. Many of those games have been routs.

But the Ravens are 8-5 in road playoffs, including their upset of the Broncos in double overtime last Saturday in an equally tough venue.

And there's no reason to fear a trip to Foxborough, where no one has fared better in the playoffs.

Last January, they were an incompletion in the end zone in the final minute - Sterling Moore stripped the ball from Lee Evans after the Ravens receiver had both hands on it - from winning. And then they botched a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

``These are two of the top teams for a long time now and we know each other very well,'' Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis said. ``It's that chess match; they are going to make plays and we are going to. It's always one play here or there and who makes the last play will win. It will always be a 60-minute game.''

That's something Lewis revels in as he makes a final run for a second championship before retiring when the Ravens are done.

``Both sides understand the game of football,'' he said. ``There have been some great, great rivalries and we have one of those going on with New England now.''

Baltimore won at home 31-30 in Week 3, which seems like eons ago. The Ravens were contending for the AFC's top seed until losing four of their last five.

That dropped them out of a bye position, too, which New England grabbed. But the Ravens beat Indianapolis at home in the wild-card round, then stunned Denver.

``I think you always want to play at home. We want to play at home. We've got great fans and it's a great atmosphere,'' Ravens center Matt Birk said. ``I'd say it's certainly an advantage, but that's the way it is. Ultimately it's not going to decide the outcome of the game. Whoever plays better, more fundamentally sound football is going to win the game.''

Overall, the Ravens are 2-7 vs. New England, including 1-5 at Foxborough. Their defeats in five of the last six meetings were by a combined 16 points.

Wilfork doesn't care about history, recent or otherwise.

``This is going to be a battle,'' he said. ``Both teams deserve to be at this level. You have the two best teams in the AFC playing.

``It just goes to show you the consistency of these teams. Every year it always seems like we are in it and they are in it and it just comes down to a couple of plays during the season or a couple of games in the season for these two ballclubs. For us we just have to be ready to go for 60 minutes; sometimes even more than that, as we saw last week. They went against a football team in Denver and they went out there and played more than 60 minutes. They came out on top, so that says a lot about how tough this football team is.''

Unlike some other potential visitors to New England, any weather issues won't bother the Ravens, either. Hey, after subzero wind chill numbers at Denver last weekend, Baltimore will consider just about anything balmy.

The oddsmakers believe the home-field advantage is substantial for the Patriots, who are 9-point favorites. They'll gladly accept those points before kickoff.

``It's good that we get to stay home, but once you get out there on the field, you have two teams going at it, all playing for one common goal,'' Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. ``I don't care where you play; it's not going to change how one team comes out. Just because you're at home doesn't mean you're going to be more prepared than the team that's on the road.

``I think the team we're playing now shows that. They've won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple years, so I don't think the home-field advantage will really be that much of a difference as far as `since we're at home we're going to win.'

``But as a player, you always love playing in front of your fans.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

We've made in to NFL draft week. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The 2019 NFL Draft is Thursday night in Nashville, Tn. While the chances of pundits predicting each team's first-round pick accurately is about the same as picking the Powerball numbers, we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking at them. Here's a look at 20 prospects mocked to the Ravens at No. 22, courtesy of the Ravens' website.  


2. One of the many exciting parts of the NFL draft is waiting to hear which organizations trade forward or backwards to acquire a pick. Just last year, the Ravens traded back from their No. 16 pick several times to select Hayden Hurst at No. 25, before trading back into the first-round to pick Lamar Jackson at No. 32. But which trade in Ravens history was the most impactful? ESPN's Jamison Hensley selected the Ravens' trade for running back Jamal Lewis.


"In 1999, the Ravens traded their second-round pick (No. 43) for Atlanta's first-round pick in 2000, which they used to land running back Jamal Lewis," Hensley wrote. "The Falcons selected tight end Reggie Kelly, and the Ravens got what turned into the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Baltimore drafted Lewis, who carried the offense during the team's 2000 Super Bowl championship season and recorded the NFL's fifth 2,000-yard season in 2003."


3. As Marlon Humphrey enters his third year in the league, the cornerback will not only be expected to take on a leadership role within the Ravens' new look defense, but top his impressive sophomore season. In 2018, Humphrey contested 35% of targets thrown into his coverage marking the second-best rate in all the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: 

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Steve Bisciotti donates $100,000 to rebuilding historically black churches

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Steve Bisciotti donates $100,000 to rebuilding historically black churches

One more week of the NFL offseason in the books. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes:

1. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti donated $100,000 to help rebuilding efforts for three historically black churches in the Louisiana area that recently burned down by an alleged arsonists. An effort led by former tight end Benjamin Watson, Bisciotti reached out to him Sunday committing his donation. 

2. The GOAT gene has transferred from Justin Tucker to his son, Easton. The kicker posted a video on his Instagram Thursday of the little guy kicking a (mini) field goal right down the middle, just like his dad. 

Looking Ahead:

April 19: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: