The Baltimore Ravens have worked hard and admirably persevered through multiple challenges this season to get back to the same position they were in last year: playing at New England in the AFC Championship game. But history says the chances of the outcome being different for Baltimore are abysmal. The Ravens lost a heartbreaker, 23-20, to the Patriots last January, and they'd have to look back at more than 60 years of championship game results to find the last time a team won revenge against the same opponent, after losing the first meeting the year before.
Did you get the historical heft of that statement? The last time a team won being in the exact situation Baltimore finds itself this Sunday was more than six decades ago, when the 1951 Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns 24-17 in the NFL title game in L.A., after having lost the 1950 NFL championship 30-28 to the Browns in Cleveland.
It's an astounding trend. The past 11 times teams have met back-to-back in NFL title games, AFL title games or AFC, NFC championships, the same team has won both games. When you throw in the Cowboys-Bills consecutive Super Bowls of 1992-93 (each won by Dallas), it's an 0-12 rematch record for the team losing the first of two back-to-back championship games.
There is just one caveat: If those teams faced off three consecutive years in championship games, the team that lost the first two meetings won the third showdown three times (San Francisco over Dallas in the 1994 NFC title game; Oakland over Pittsburgh in the 1976 AFC title game; and Cleveland over Detroit in the 1954 NFL championship).
So there's hope for Baltimore to beat New England in next season's AFC title game, but not much Sunday night, based on the repeat factor at play in professional football since well before the 1970 merger and even before the seminal 1958 NFL title game between the Colts and Giants -- the overtime classic that is credited with putting the pro game on the map.
Keep in mind as well, even without the rematch factor, the statistical odds don't favor the Ravens. New England is 7-2 all-time in AFC/AFL championships, including a 4-0 record at home. The Ravens, who moved to Baltimore for the 1996 season, are just 1-2 in AFC title games, all of them coming on the road.
-- First in the AFC or AFL....
-- And then in the NFC or NFL....
The four coaches working this weekend know their way around the NFL playoffs. Bill Belichick (11 playoff berths in 18 seasons), John Harbaugh (5 in 5 seasons), Mike Smith (4 in 5 seasons) and Jim Harbaugh (2 in 2 seaons) are a combined 28-15 in the postseason, with Belichick's 18-7 record and John Harbaugh's 7-4 mark leading the way..... While the Patriots have played in five of the past 11 Super Bowls, the Ravens are trying to get back for the first time since 2000. The droughts are even longer in the NFC. Atlanta hasn't made a Super Bowl since the 1998 season, and San Francisco last went in 1994.