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“(We’re) just two bigger guys that throw well from the pocket. Both of us have been able to get outside the pocket and make plays, too,” Ryan said. “We’re probably more similar than different.”

The comparisons don’t stop there.

Michael Turner has carried the ball 155 times for the Falcons, Rice has gotten it 153 times for the Ravens. Atlanta would seem to have the edge in the receiving department with NFC-leading Roddy White (58 catches, 796 yards, five TDs) and Canton-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez, but the Ravens aren’t too shabby either with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Overall, the Falcons appear to have an edge on offense with their balance and big-play capability.

That said, the Ravens appear to have the clear advantage on defense, especially since safety Ed Reed returned from an injury to hold down the back end. Haloti Ngata anchors the defensive line, Terrell Suggs provides pressure off the edge in the 3-4 scheme, and the 35-year-old Lewis, despite losing a step or two, remains the heart and soul.

“They always talk about being strong down the middle in baseball,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “Well, we’re pretty strong down the middle on defense.”

The Falcons will be without their first-round draft pick, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who’s still recovering from a knee injury. Even with Weatherspoon, they don’t have nearly as much star power on defense as the Ravens.

Flacco described Atlanta’s defensive scheme as “pretty basic,” though he did take note of one player: 5-foot-9 cornerback Brent Grimes. With Dunta Robinson at the other corner, teams tend to pick on Grimes relentlessly _ with mixed results.

“He’s pretty short,” Flacco said. “But he can go out and play. He can run. He can jump. He can be a little aggravating out there, too.”

For Smith, this is a chance to face the team he once worked for. He was a defensive assistant under his brother-in-law, Brian Billick, when the Ravens won the Super Bowl during the 2000 season.

“When I think about the Baltimore Ravens, I think about a team that each and every year is one of the top teams in the league,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here in Atlanta.”