Almost on the same side
Adam Schefter [ARCHIVE]
January 18, 2013
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It is as it should be: Ray Lewis' Ravens and Bill Belichick's Patriots meet Sunday night to decide the AFC champion in what could be the final game for one of the greatest players in NFL history.

And if it wasn't for Belichick, Lewis would not be in Baltimore.

Follow along. Belichick was the Browns' coach in 1995, when Cleveland traded a No. 1 pick to San Francisco in exchange for several picks. The 49ers used the 10th overall pick, which they got from Cleveland, on UCLA wide receiver J.J. Stokes.

But Belichick never got to use the second No. 1 pick he got back from San Francisco. Before he could, Cleveland fired him and moved the franchise to Baltimore, which inherited the 1996 first-round pick that Belichick had acquired from San Francisco.

Baltimore used its own first-round pick in 1996 on UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Then it used its second first-round pick, the one Belichick acquired from the 49ers, on Miami linebacker Ray Lewis. Baltimore believed, accurately and wisely, that in one draft it had acquired building blocks for its defense and offense.

The other irony to the pick was that Lewis nearly wound up with Belichick anyway. After Cleveland fired Belichick, New England and its coach, Bill Parcells, hired him as defensive coordinator in 1996. One of the Patriots' missions that offseason was to upgrade their linebackers.

So on a spring day in 1996, Belichick flew to Miami and spent nearly a full day watching game tape with Lewis, having him read and react to defensive plays, getting to know him in case New England wanted to draft him. And it did -- in the second round. But before Lewis could slide to the Patriots' spot in that round, the Ravens drafted him in the first round with the 26th overall selection -- with the pick Belichick had acquired for Cleveland from San Francisco.

New England then opted to use its third-round pick on another linebacker, Arizona's Tedy Bruschi. It is another sign of the funny bounces football sometimes takes, affecting lives and legacies.

As Baltimore and New England each stand 60 minutes from New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII, the ultimate irony is how much Belichick has to do with the Ravens being positioned where they are. Without Belichick, Lewis would not have spent 17 memorable seasons in Baltimore.

Now the two men get to spend one more evening together, with the AFC championship at stake.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Four possibilities: Heading into the best day of the NFL season, there are four possible outcomes, whose stories will be told for two straight weeks up until the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVII. A look at each of the four:

- New England vs. San Francisco -- A rematch of maybe the single best regular-season game in 2012, when San Francisco beat New England 41-34. This matchup would feature two of football's top franchises: the team of the 1980s versus the team of the past decade. Two teams that have combined for eight Super Bowl titles would be vying for one more.

- New England vs. Atlanta -- Atlanta's ties to New England run deep. For starters, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan starred at Boston College. But even more significant, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff cut his teeth in the Patriots' organization, learning at the feet of Belichick. A franchise aiming to win its first Super Bowl title would be doing it against a team that has won three.

- Baltimore vs. San Francisco -- Forget the Manning brothers, even in New Orleans. The Super Bowl would be all about the Harbaugh brothers -- Baltimore coach John facing San Francisco coach Jim. This game would pit veteran stalwart linebacker Lewis against young stalwart linebacker Patrick Willis. Yet the Super Bowl would be about a brother combination that, for at least two weeks, would supplant Eli and Peyton as the most publicized in the game.

- Baltimore vs. Atlanta -- The least attractive of the possible Super Bowl matchups still would hold some intrigue. Two quarterbacks from the same draft class, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Atlanta's Ryan, would vie for the title of valedictorian of that class. The winner would be that much better positioned for a lucrative new contract.

2. History lesson: Some contrasted Denver's passiveness during Saturday's divisional playoff loss against Baltimore to Atlanta's aggressiveness throwing downfield in the closing seconds to beat Seattle. But the more appropriate comparison comes from the 1998 NFC Championship Game, when the No. 1-seeded Vikings hosted the Falcons. Back then, when the Vikings had the highest-scoring offense in NFL history with Randall Cunningham at quarterback and Randy Moss and Cris Carter at wide receiver, they got the ball back at their 30-yard line with 30 seconds remaining, two timeouts and the score tied at 27. They sat on the football, taking a knee and drawing widespread criticism when they eventually lost in overtime.

But the situation was almost identical to the one Denver was in last Saturday. The Broncos, with quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, got back the ball at their 20-yard line with 31 seconds remaining, two timeouts and the score tied at 35. They sat on the football, taking a knee and drawing widespread criticism. Denver's decision was similar to the one that former Vikings coach Dennis Green made nearly 15 years ago. Minnesota didn't play to win; it played not to lose. And that was how the Broncos played, and lost, Saturday.

3. Unlikely influence: It's hardly thought of as a football hotbed like Michigan or USC, but few schools are as well represented in the NFL's final four as John Carroll University. The offensive coordinators for the 49ers and Patriots -- Greg Roman and Josh McDaniels, respectively -- attended John Carroll. So did the directors of player personnel for the Falcons and Patriots, David Caldwell and Nick Caserio, respectively.

Even teams not in the playoffs have John Carroll ties: Jacksonville has hired Caldwell as its general manager, and San Diego hired John Carroll graduate Tom Telesco as its general manager. Must be something in the water in University Heights, Ohio, where the school's football stadium is named after Don Shula, another famous alum. All that's missing from these playoffs is Washington advancing further than it did with Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, who also starred at John Carroll.

4. Home cooking: It hardly means that New England and Atlanta are destined to meet up in New Orleans, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Falcons quarterback Ryan are a combined 120-21 in home starts, including playoffs. Among quarterbacks to make at least 20 starts at home and begin their careers in the Super Bowl era, Brady has the best winning percentage in home starts (86-15, .851) and Ryan has the second-best (34-6, .850). Past records...
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