Vince Wilfork vs. Matt Birk

Matt Birk (Ravens center, 6-4, 310 lbs, 14 years experience) vs. Vince Wilfork [stats] (Patriots [team stats] nose tackle, 6-2, 325, 8 years)

Advantage Birk:
There’s not much, if anything, the 35-year-old Harvard graduate hasn’t seen on the football field. Birk has the edge with intelligence and experience. He was named the sixth smartest athlete by the Sporting News. The six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection surely won’t get caught up in the moment of the AFC Championship Game.

Advantage Wilfork:
The 30-year-old Wilfork is in the prime of his career compared to Birk, who will retire at the end of the season. And he has momentum. The four-time Pro-Bowl and four-time All-Pro selection totaled 1.5 sacks last Saturday against the Broncos and despite being doubled nearly every play, he’s put up some of the best numbers in his career this season. And by doubling him, it opens up other defensive linemen like Kyle Love.

What’s at stake:
It’s essential that the Patriots get pressure on the quarterback and that starts with Wilfork. During their 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens in 2010, the Patriots had zero sacks or hits on Joe Flacco. The defensive line also needs to stop the run. In 2010, Ray Rice torched them for 159 yards and two touchdowns. The battle of the trenches very well could determine this game.

Wilfork routinely abuses centers with a quick burst and solid leverage, overwhelming them with power and a rare motor for a big guy. While Birk has seen it all and can still get it done, his endurance probably will be a factor. Initially, he may be able to stay with Wilfork, and rangy for a center, Birk could keep Wilfork off him initially. But considering the shape Wilfork is in, Birk won’t be able to hold him off for long. Expect plenty of help from each guard.

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