- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2012

No complaining about these championship matchups: prolific offense vs. stingy defense, or old foes renewing a storied rivalry.

Whichever suits your preference, the NFL has it this weekend.

When the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday for the AFC title, four players who have come to represent the highest levels of achievement will be on each side of the ball. Tom Brady, seeking a fifth start in a Super Bowl, and Wes Welker on New England’s offense, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on Baltimore’s defense.

How juicy.

“They’ve got a lot of guys over there that are very explosive,” said Reed, the Ravens‘ star safety. “Obviously, they score a lot of points, and we’ve all seen that. It’s going to be an all-day affair for our defense.”

The other championship affair Sunday is at Candlestick Park, where the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have played some memorable games, regular season and postseason. Despite the geographic separation, these franchises have quite a history with each other.

“You know there are a lot of memories,” former Giants quarterback Phil Simms said of the rivalry. “They went from maybe the greatest to the worst in lots of ways. The games were awesome.”

It could shape up as an awesome weekend. Certainly an intriguing one.

New England (14-3) hasn’t won the AFC crown since 2007, when it was unbeaten until the Giants pulled off a shocker in the Super Bowl. The Patriots‘ last NFL title came in January 2005.

To get their fourth league championship under coach Bill Belichick and with Brady at quarterback, they’ll need to have their offense in high gear, which it has been nearly all season. The Patriots scored at least 27 points in all but three games and averaged 32.8, including last week’s 45-10 rout of Denver, their ninth straight victory.

But New England didn’t beat an opponent that finished with a winning record, and lost to its two most difficult foes, Pittsburgh and the Giants.

Baltimore (13-4) most assuredly presents a difficult challenge, with a defense that yielded 266 points, more than only two teams.

“I think we have a lot of confidence, we are a confident type team, have a lot of good players and they feed off each other,” All-Pro receiver Welker said. “We feel someone will step up and make a play … and it makes it tough on defenses.

“I understand we are playing a great football team this week and have to be on top of everything. No mental errors, no bad mistakes, knowing your job and taking care of your business.”

Brady usually does that, although before the romp past Denver, he and the Patriots had lost three straight postseason games. He is 4-0 in regular-season meetings with the Ravens, but lost their only playoff matchup.

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