Ray versus Tom. Tom versus Ray.
Oh yeah, the Ravens and Patriots, along for the ride. Ray Lewis' last ride, one Tom Brady hopes to cut short today in the AFC championship game.
A year after a brutal last-minute loss in Foxborough, Baltimore is back, looking for a reversal of fortune and a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it in 2001. If the Ravens fall again, Lewis' superb 17-year career as the NFL's best linebacker of his era will end as he retires.
Brady, the most successful quarterback of his time, has no thoughts of retirement — or of failing to make his sixth Super Bowl in the past dozen seasons.
That Lewis and Brady will bring a mutual admiration society to Gillette Stadium adds some flattery to what has become an intense rivalry.
"Both sides understand the game of football," Lewis said. "There have been some great, great rivalries and we have one of those going on with New England now."
Adds Brady: "It's really a pleasure to play against him. He's really been so consistent over the years and durable and tough. He's so instinctive."
At the forefront in this rematch, naturally, is Brady, who has won three NFL titles and would be only the second player to reach six Super Bowls by leading New England (13-4) past Baltimore (12-6). And there's Lewis, the most dominant inside linebacker the league has seen since the heyday of Mike Singletary.
Brady is all about composure, accuracy and even sophistication. Lewis brings aggression, ferocity and mayhem to the field.
An odd couple, indeed, but one that appreciates the attributes of the other.
"He doesn't give up hardly any plays, makes a ton of tackles," Brady said of the 37-year-old Lewis, who missed 10 games with a right triceps injury but has been a tackling machine in the postseason. "He's really a playmaker for them, so they give him an opportunity to make those plays. You see when he makes a play, their whole sideline gets really amped up."
No one, of course, raises his teammates to a more fevered pitch than Lewis.
For all the energy and clutch plays Baltimore's defense has made since Lewis returned, it remains vulnerable because its three biggest stars — Lewis, safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs — are not nearly 100 percent healthy.
There's also the exhaustion factor: The Ravens have played one more game than the Patriots, and they went into a second overtime last week at Denver.
The leaders of these teams, Brady and Lewis, aren't exactly one-man bands. Indeed, Brady seems to make everyone into a star and Lewis isn't the best Raven on defense right now, end Paul Kruger is.
Baltimore must deal with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, Brady's top targets — star tight end Rob Gronkowski is out with a broken left arm — and 1,000-yard rusher Stevan Ridley. The Ravens need to penetrate a line that yielded 27 sacks, second in the AFC.
Kruger (9 sacks in the regular season, 2.5 in playoffs) is the main threat, and Suggs has been coming on since returning from an Achilles tendon injury. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is a handful, as good as his counterpart with the Patriots, Vince Wilfork.
With only 13 interceptions during the season, the Ravens weren't a big threat to steal the ball. But they got two off Peyton Manning last week and one on Andrew Luck the previous game.
It also must be remembered that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco outplayed Brady in the 23-20 AFC championship defeat last January. Flacco and receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have been dangerous on deep balls in this postseason.
No matter who finds his way into the spotlight, though, he won't shove aside Lewis or Brady.