FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts, EE.UU. (AP) — Los Patriots deben estar felices por jugar en casa el partido por el título de la Conferencia Americana de la NFL.

Nueva Inglaterra buscará extender su dominio en el escalón final hacia el Súper Bowl cuando enfrente el domingo a Baltimore, el mismo equipo que los Patriots vencieron hace un año por la corona de la conferencia. Ese triunfo dejó al equipo de Tom Brady con récord de 4-0 en finales de la AFC en su cancha.

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Aunque fueron más vulnerables en casa que de costumbre en la temporada de 2012, con derrotas ante Arizona y San Francisco y juegos cerrados contra Búfalo y los Jets, los Patriots (13-4) están contentos por no tener que ir a Baltimore (12-6) este fin de semana. O a cualquier otro lugar.

"Todo está sobre la mesa", comentó el tackle defensivo de los Patriots, Vince Wilfork. "Hay que dejarlo todo en este partido. Si pierdes te vas a casa, es así de sencillo".

Wilfork no se fía por la historia de Nueva Inglaterra como local en finales de la AFC.

"Este equipo siempre nos da problemas", agregó Wilfork, en referencia a los Ravens. "Este equipo ha jugado como visitante en los playoffs y ha ganado muchos partidos. Ganaron aquí en los playoffs. Tenemos que prepararnos bien y jugar al nivel más alto. No podemos descuidar un solo detalle en este partido, porque nos podría costar caro".

Los Patriots son uno de los mejores equipos como locales en la NFL, con récord de 73-15 desde que su estadio Gillette abrió sus puertas en 2002, incluyendo 10-2 en la postemporada. Muchos de esos encuentros han sido palizas.

Pero los Ravens tienen marca de 8-5 como visitantes en los playoffs, incluyendo su triunfo sobre Denver en dos tiempos extras el sábado pasado.

Y tampoco tienen motivo para temer por visitar Foxborough, donde han jugado bien en los playoffs.

En enero pasado, sólo una intercepción en la zona de anotación en los segundos finales evitó que Baltimore derrotara a Nueva Inglaterra para avanzar al Súper Bowl. Además, fallaron un gol de campo que hubiese enviado el partido a tiempo extra.

"Hemos sido dos de los mejores equipos por mucho tiempo y nos conocemos muy bien", señaló el estelar linebacker de los Ravens, Ray Lewis. "Es un partido de ajedrez, ellos van a hacer jugadas y nosotros vamos a hacer jugadas. Siempre se decide por alguna jugada clave. Siempre será un partido disputado hasta el final".

Lewis busca ganar su segundo Súper Bowl antes de retirarse.

"Ambas partes entienden bien este deporte", agregó. "Ha habido grandes rivalidades, y nosotros tenemos una de esas ahora mismo con Nueva Inglaterra".

Baltimore ganó en su feudo 31-30 en la tercera fecha de la temporada, lo que ahora parece hace siglos. Los Ravens eran candidatos a ser los primeros preclasificados de la AFC hasta que perdieron cuatro de sus cinco últimos desafíos.

Eso los obligó a jugar en la primera ronda de la postemporada, en la que vencieron a Indianápolis, para luego sorprender a los Broncos en Denver.

"Creo que siempre quieres jugar en casa. Nosotros queremos jugar en casa, tenemos fanáticos fabulosos y es un gran ambiente", reconoció el centro de los Ravens, Matt Birk. "Diría que es una ventaja, pero así son las cosas. A fin de cuentas, no decidirá el resultado del partido. El que juegue mejor y cometa menos errores será el ganador".

En general, los Ravens han ganado dos de sus nueve enfrentamientos con los Patriots, incluyendo uno de seis en Foxborough. Sus derrotas en cinco de sus seis últimos duelos han sido por un total combinado de 16 puntos.

"Será una batalla", apuntó Wilfork. "Ambos equipos merecemos estar a este nivel. Están jugando los dos mejores equipos en la AFC".

A diferencia de otros equipos que visitan Nueva Inglaterra, el clima no será un problema para los Ravens, que vienen de jugar en temperaturas de congelación en Denver el fin de semana pasado.

Los apostadores le dan nueve puntos de ventaja a los Patriots.

"Es bueno estar en casa, pero una vez sales al terreno de juego, tienes a dos equipos enfrentándose por una misma meta", advirtió el safety de los Patriots, Devin McCourty. "No importa dónde juegues, no va a cambiar la forma de jugar de los equipos. Sólo porque estés en tu casa no significa que vas a estar mejor preparado que el equipo visitante".

"Pero, como jugador, siempre prefieres estar frente a tus fanáticos".

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  • Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis (52) reacts after the Ravens recovered a fumble during the second half of the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, runs with the ball while being chased by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd makes a catch during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) is congratulated by punter Zoltan Mesko (14) after kicking a 32- yard field goal during the first half of the NFL football AFC Championship football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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Falcons se preparan para enfrentar a Kaepernick

La risa de Michael Turner resonó en el camerino de los Falcons. Cuando le preguntaron sobre el quarterback de San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, el running back sonrió y dijo: "Me alegra no jugar en defensa".

Turner y sus compañeros en la ofensiva de Atlanta tratarán de controlar la posesión del balón y limitar al máximo la presencia de Kaepernick en el terreno el domingo en el partido por el título de la Conferencia Nacional de la NFL.

Los Falcons han visto suficiente de Kaepernick en sus ocho partidos como titular como para respetar las habilidades del veloz quarterback con el cañón por brazo.

Kaepernick llega a Atlanta tras acumular 181 yardas por tierra, un récord de la NFL para un mariscal, con dos touchdowns en el triunfo del fin de semana pasado sobre Green Bay. También lanzó para 263 yardas y dos anotaciones por aire, y se convirtió en apenas el tercer quarterback que lanza y corre para al menos dos touchdowns en un partido de playoffs.

No debe sorprender, por lo tanto, que los Falcons estén impresionados por su talento, incluso luego de enfrentar esta temporada a otros quarterbacks corredores como Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton y Russell Wilson.

El linebacker Sean Weatherspoon dijo que Kaepernick, quien mide 1,93 metros y pesa 109 kilos, está en otra categoría.

"Creo que es un tipo totalmente diferente", advirtió. "Es más alto, obviamente. Rompió el récord la semana pasada, así que eso lo convierte en alguien diferente y especial. Creo que es mucho más veloz. Russell es un tipo con más aceleración, pero Colin es más rápido".

Wilson y Griffin son buenos para evadir defensores. Kaepernick luche más como un velocista de los 200 metros, con sus largas zancadas.

"Esa es la cosa", apuntó Weatherspoon. "Lo miras y crees que los que tienen zancadas largas no son tan rápidos, pero luego te fijas y está recorriendo mucho terreno y pasando a mucha gente. Es evidente que puede correr. La velocidad no nos sorprenderá, hemos visto los videos, estaremos preparados".

Los 49ers no necesitan que les digan que cuentan con un quarterback superdotado. En apenas media temporada, Kaepernick le cambió el rostro al ataque de San Francisco.

"Es súper rápido, atlético y puede lanzar la pelota", enumeró el running back de los 49ers, LaMichael James. "Una vez se sale del bolsillo de protección, siempre está mirando hacia el frente. Su prioridad es lanzar la pelota antes que correr. Pero, una vez sale corriendo, es más rápido que muchos running backs y linebackers. Es un atleta increíble".

Kaepernick ha evadido los golpes fuertes que han afectado a otros quarterbacks corredores como Griffin y Michael Vick. Indicó que su estrategia es "correr hacia donde no hay nadie".

"Quieres correr alejándote de los defensores", explicó. "Y cuando se acerquen, te tiras al suelo".

La defensa de los Falcons tiene motivos para estar preocupada por el enfrentamiento. Atlanta sobrevivió a duras penas en el triunfo 30-28 sobre Seattle la semana pasada, en el que Wilson dominó en el cuarto parcial. Atlanta tenía ventaja de 27-7 al comenzar el último cuarto, pero perdía 28-27 hasta que Matt Bryant logró el triunfo con un gol de campo.

Wilson lanzó para 385 yardas con dos touchdowns, y encabezó a los Seahawks con 60 yardas y un touchdown por tierra.

El entrenador de los Falcons, Mike Smith, dijo que se está preparando para la ofensiva normal de los 49ers y para la formación de pistola, con las jugadas por tierra que Kaepernick usaba en la universidad de Nevada.

"Tendremos que estar preparados para detenerlo", reconoció Smith. "Vamos a ver cosas que no hemos visto en cuanto a sus alineaciones".