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Here's a key matchup to watch in the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Ravens:
Ravens DT Haloti Ngata vs. Patriots OLG Logan Mankins
Two of the best in the business at their respective positions will be sparring often in the trenches on Sunday. Ngata is one of the league's best interior linemen and can get after the passer, while Mankins is among the NFL's best guards.
Ngata, who got a contract extension in the offseason, finished the 2011 season with 64 tackles, five sacks, eight QB hits, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He can get his hands in the passing lanes, and Mankins will need to remain engaged to keep Ngata from disrupting Tom Brady's passes.
When the two teams met last season, Ngata was a beast, recording seven tackles and two sacks. He will try to clog the running lanes and, more importantly, get penetration up the middle against Brady, who likes to step up in the pocket and will rarely move out of it.
Mankins injured his knee in the team's Week 16 win over the Dolphins, and he may not yet be at 100 percent. Ngata, who usually lines up over left guard but may move around, could have an edge because of Mankins' knee injury.
Ngata will also want to occupy Mankins to open up holes for MLB Ray Lewis to hit. The Patriots have had success running the football when necessary this season, and against a formidable defense like Baltimore's, they may try to get it established. Ngata and Lewis are key in the Ravens' run defense.
Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed are the Ravens' playmakers in the back seven, but Ngata makes a difference on the front line. If he can get a push up front against Mankins, ORG Brian Waters or C Dan Connolly, that could affect Brady's vision, and therefore the team's passing attack. Mankins is better-known for being a mauler in the run game, and he gave up a career-high 5½ sacks this season, according to STATS LLC, and he was also penalized seven times. He may need his best game on Sunday to keep Ngata in check.