The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens have enjoyed more playoff success than all other teams over the last 15 years.
While New England has also been the league’s most dominant home team in the same span, that hasn’t necessarily meant much against Baltimore in the postseason.
New England hosts Baltimore in a divisional matchup Saturday as these teams continue what has developed into one of the NFL’s best playoff rivalries in recent memory.
The Patriots (12-4) lead all teams with an 18-8 playoff record since 2000, while Baltimore (11-6) is second at 15-7. Their mirrored success has led to numerous run-ins, and Saturday marks their fourth postseason meeting in six years.
"There’s experience against this team," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We know a lot of their players and some of their schemes, but I think each time we’ve played them our team has been different, their team has been different."
In the same time frame, New England’s 109 home wins in are at least 14 more than the second-most successful team. That includes a 12-3 postseason record.
The Patriots, who are coming off a first-round bye for the fifth consecutive season, have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs as they seek their first Super Bowl appearance in three years. They reached the league’s championship game two of the last three times they claimed the conference’s top seed.
"We’ve put ourselves in a good position," said Tom Brady, whose 18 playoff wins are the most in league history. "We’ve just got to take advantage of it."
Though New England leads the all-time series 8-3, two of its three home playoff losses since 2000 have come in three meetings with Baltimore. The Ravens outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half of a 28-13 AFC championship game victory two years ago. Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes while New England scored one TD on four red-zone possessions, with Brady being intercepted on each of his last two drives.
Brady also threw two picks in the previous year’s AFC title game, but ran in the go-ahead touchdown in a 23-20 victory.
Baltimore scored 24 first-quarter points, ran the ball 52 times and intercepted Brady three times in a 33-14 wild-card win following the 2009 season.
These teams are vastly different in some respects from those meetings, however. The top two receivers from each club in the last matchup – Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta for Baltimore and Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker for New England – are not around.
Ray Rice, who ran for 274 yards and three TDs in the three postseason meetings, is no longer with the Ravens. Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe are also gone after picking off Brady in the most recent playoff matchup.
Given the differences, coach John Harbaugh downplayed Baltimore’s success in the postseason series.
"I don’t think it really matters," he told the team’s official website. "It’s a new game. Really, the past, the future, it’s just whoever plays best Saturday afternoon is going to be the team that wins the game."
The Ravens are one of two teams, along with Carolina, with winning playoff road records. Baltimore is 10-5, tied with Green Bay for the most wins in league history despite playing at least two fewer games than all teams with seven or more such victories.
Last week’s 30-17 victory in Pittsburgh was its third straight road playoff win. Harbaugh is 7-4, tied with Tom Coughlin and Tom Landry for the most road postseason wins in league history.
"I really don’t have an explanation for that other than the fact that we played well," Harbaugh said. "You’ve got to play well on the road, obviously, to have a chance to win."
Flacco’s seven road playoff wins are a record. He has thrown for 17 TDs with one interception while winning six of his last seven postseason games and posted a 117.2 passer rating in Baltimore’s run to the 2012 title. He cashed in the following offseason with a six-year, $120.6 million deal.
Harbaugh called Flacco "the best quarterback in football" after he was 18 of 29 for 259 yards and two TDs against the Steelers. He ranked 16th this season in terms of passer rating, but ranks 12th all-time in the playoffs.
"At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what everybody wants to think,” Flacco said. ”It obviously means a lot for a head coach to stand up in front of everybody in the whole world and say those kind of things. Whether it really means anything, I don’t know. But it definitely means a lot to me.”
New England coach Bill Belichick can tie Landry for the most playoff wins with his 20th, while Brady’s 18 postseason wins lead all quarterbacks. Brady has thrown seven TDs with five interceptions while splitting his last six playoff games, however. He was 8 of 16 for 80 yards while playing only the first half in a Week 17 loss to Buffalo. The Patriots had already clinched home field.
"I don’t think that’s really useful," Brady said of recent playoff performances. "We can’t change what has happened. You just have to move forward and you have to think about the things that we’ve done really well this year."