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One Harbaugh in, one out for Super Bowl picks

One Harbaugh in, one out for Super Bowl picks

For those fans clamoring to see someone new in the Super Bowl, the NFC is giving you what you want.

Sorry about the AFC.

Yep, same old, same old is ahead, with the New England Patriots hosting the Baltimore Ravens for the second straight conference championship game Sunday. With a similar result, too.

New England (13-4) is a 9 1/2-point favorite to reach its sixth Super Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The Patriots' quarterback and coach are 3-2 together in the big game, but the last two appearances have been losses to the Giants.

That surely must irk the two men who otherwise have dominated the last 12 NFL seasons.

The Patriots have never lost an AFC title game at home (4-0, three of those in those 12 seasons). They certainly came close last January when Lee Evans couldn't hold onto a pass in the end zone in the final moment that would have sent the Ravens to their second Super Bowl and first since the 2000 season, when they won it all.

New England will move the ball on Baltimore (12-6) and could resort to running it more often than in the past. Not only is Stevan Ridley a 1,000-yard rusher, something very rare for the Patriots, but the Ravens aren't nearly as stout as they once were at stopping the run. With the emergence of Shane Vereen and consistency of Danny Woodhead if he is healthy, the Patriots are deep in the backfield, too.

The loss of star tight end Rob Gronkowski will be damaging for the Patriots, but not overwhelmingly so. Aaron Hernandez will pick up the slack in receptions and the blocking of Michael Hoomanawanui against Houston was exemplary.

Where the Ravens could prosper is in a revitalized pass rush. Terrell Suggs finally is approaching his top defensive player status of 2011 after returning from a partially torn Achilles tendon. Paul Kruger already is a dynamic sack guy.

Ray Lewis' pending retirement adds an emotional boost for Baltimore.

But in the end, New England's offense will be too persistent, too sharp and too deep for Baltimore to stop. Look for Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Hernandez to have strong games, and for the Patriots' defense to keep Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Baltimore's dangerous offense from doing too much damage.

And look for the Patriots to be in New Orleans next month.

PATRIOTS, 30-24

San Francisco (minus 3 1/2) at Atlanta

Had the Falcons kept the rout going against Seattle in last Sunday's divisional round, the spread here would be different. But Atlanta (14-3) nearly blew it, raising questions among the odds makers about how good the Falcons really are.

They're plenty good, as their last-minute rally to Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal to beat the Seahawks proved. The issue: San Francisco (12-4-1) simply is better.

Of the remaining four teams, the 49ers are the most balanced. They have the best defense by far; only Seattle's unit really challenged them among all the playoff qualifiers.

Atlanta will struggle to run against Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Co. So the Falcons will take to the air, a wise decision when you have playmakers Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones.

Problem is, the Niners' secondary is as good as any, even if the interceptions were down this season. And the pass rush, sparked by Aldon Smith (19 1/2 sacks), is formidable.

Where San Francisco has an edge over last year, when it lost at home to the Giants for the conference crown, is in its passing game. Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick has added a dynamic dimension with his strong arm, escapability and overall athletic skills. Michael Crabtree has developed into a dependable receiver with big-play abilities.

Add that to Frank Gore's running, and Atlanta's D will be overmatched.

49ERS, 23-16

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2012 RECORD:

Against spread: 3-1 (117-127-7). Straight up: 2-2 (164-95-1)

Best Bet: 9-8-2 against spread, 13-6 straight up.

Upset special: 11-8 against spread, 9-10 straight up.

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

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Ravens vs. Colts preseason: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Colts preseason: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

After 10 days and two testy joint practices with the Colts, Ravens football is back.

The guys are in Indianapolis to take on the Colts in their third preseason game of the season. You can expect to see Lamar Jackson and RGIII getting more reps in, but it's unclear how much of Andrew Luck we'll see after he missed the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury.

While the joint practices brought a few brawls, head coach John Harbaugh has been nothing but impressed with how his team has been handling training camp and the preseason thus far.

"I think about as good as [I’ve] ever seen,” Harbaugh said via the Ravens' website. “I’d have to say our best camp in terms of guys focused on improving every day and becoming one percent better at what they do from one day to the next and keep building on that. That’s what I’m proud of.”

Ahead of their matchup, here's everything you need to know to watch.

Ravens vs. Colts Preseason Game:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts 

What: Preseason Week 3

When: Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana 

TV Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock, ESPN Radio

Weather: 78 degrees, scattered thunderstorms

Preseason Schedule:

Hall of Fame Game: Thurs., 8/2 vs. Chicago Bears. 8:00 p.m. (W: 17-16) 

Week 1: Thurs., 8/9, vs. Los Angeles Rams, 7:30 p.m. (W: 33-7)

Week 2: Mon., 8/20, at Indianapolis Colts (Monday Night Football, ESPN), 8:00 p.m. 

Week 3: Sat., 8/25 at Miami Dolphins, 7:00 p.m.

Week 4: Thurs., 8/30 vs. Washington Redskins, 7:30 p.m.

Ravens 2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9 vs. Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 @ Bengals, 8:20 p.m.

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 vs. Broncos. 1:00 p.m.

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 @ Steelers, 8:20 p.m.

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 @ Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 @ Titans, 4:25 p.m.

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

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A Norwegian soccer player turned kicker, Kaare Vedvik fighting for chance on Ravens roster

Twenty-four-year-old Kaare Vedvik didn't watch his first football game until seven years ago, and now he's fighting for a spot on the Ravens' special teams roster.

Raised in Norway, Vedvik got his first glance at the game when the Super Bowl was being broadcast on Norwegian television for the first time. 

"It seemed like a really, really interesting sport," Vedvik said via The Baltimore Sun. "It was a sport I was never able to try growing up. I loved any sport that was fun, and football seemed really, really fun."

Fun enough to get the competitive soccer player to be an exchange student in the United States during his junior year of high school to test out the game of football. Vedvik returned to Norway for his senior year but impressed college recruiters enough at a Kohl's Kicking Camp in Texas that he was eventually recruited to play at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Staying in Norway would have meant giving up on sports entirely as school becomes more difficult and sports are no longer offered. Vedvik wasn't ready for that.

While at Marshall, Vedvik played in 38 games in four years as both a punter and kicker. He punted 59 times for 2,597 yards — averaging 44 yards — with 26 of them inside the 20-yard line. Vedvik once punted a 92-yarder, making it the seventh-longest punt in FBS history and the longest in 45 years. He ranked in the Top 10 for fewest punt return yards and averaged 63.6 yards-per-kickoff. 

After a private workout with Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg, Vedvik became one of 14 Ravens undrafted free agents and has impressed thus far hitting 70 and 67-yard field goals in training camp practices. And in Thursday's preseason game vs. the Rams, Vedvik hit a 56-yard field goal.

"Learning how to kick field goals, the biggest thing for me was to stop swiping across and trying to kick a straighter ball," Vedcik said. "That’s the biggest difference: In soccer, you’re trying to curve balls around a defender."

While Vedvik's chances of dethroning the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker and 12-year veteran punter Sam Koch are slim, he could very well make an impact elsewhere. 

“The guys who are able to do that, they’re just good athletes in general, and Kaare is a good athlete,” Tucker said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Norwegian. “He hasn’t played a lot of football. He has plenty of ability.”

“When he came in, he’s got such a strong leg," Koch added. "You’ve got to have a strong leg in order to get looked at. He’s got a lot of talent. It’s one of those things — bringing him in, honing his skills and seeing what he can do from here.”

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