The Indianapolis Colts meet the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. This game is not without interesting story lines.
1). Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, one week after returning to the sidelines following a three month absence during which he received treatment for leukemia, now meets his former team in the Wild card round. Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator last year.
2). Former Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell will be the offensive coordinator for the Ravens after Cam Cameron’s dismissal in week 14. Caldwell was dismissed from Indianapolis following last season’s 2-14 finish that also resulted in the gutting of the team’s front office staff and players, and the eventual drafting of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
3). Speaking of Luck, the winningest rookie quarterback taken #1 overall in the draft in NFL history will play his first postseason game in one of the more hostile environments an Indianapolis Colt can play. I don’t know how often we’ll be able to count the number of times broadcasters will reference how the team was once the “Baltimore Colts,” despite the fact the team has now been in Indianapolis almost as long as they were there. It’s been nearly 30 years guys. Time to move on.
4). The only two times these teams have met in the playoffs, Indianapolis won both times on its way to play in the Super Bowl (2006 and 2009).
Certainly there are probably more compelling match-ups in this first round – especially the rookie-on-rookie action in the Washington-Seattle game – but the Colts getting this far after what transpired last season and in the offseason this year cannot be overstated. By all rights (and all logic, and all statistics, etc.), the Colts shouldn’t be here.
Luck has been as good – if not better – as he was expected to be in his first year, but the overall team picture tells a much different story. The Colts rank in the bottom half (in most cases, the bottom third) of most key categories – offensive points per game, rushing yards per game, defensive yards allowed, defensive points allowed, turnover differential, and sacks given up. Generally speaking that is not a formula for regular season or playoff success. And yet, here they stand.
The Ravens are not without their own issues. Offensively, they have been a major disappointment (hence the Cam Cameron firing). Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t taken that extra step into elite territory that is necessary for post season and Super Bowl wins. Defensively, they have been dealing with injuries to key contributors – middle linebacker Ray Lewis (who will retire at the end of the season) and safety Ed Reed have missed various amounts of times with lingering injury issues. Lewis was activated last week only because the team had to do so in order to make him available for the playoffs.
The Colts have been proving other teams and people wrong the entire season. Now it’s time to see if that ability can translate over to the high intensity that is the NFL Playoffs. They absolutely cannot afford to keep starting slow offensively and fall behind. Yes, Luck has been able to come back and win 7 games after trailing at the first half, but a lot of those wins came against teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason (Green Bay being a notable exception). Another must for Indianapolis is containing running back Ray Rice, who is one of the most dynamic backs in the league today. And the team won’t be going anywhere but home if they can’t improve their pass protection.
Regardless of this week’s final score, Indianapolis has had a season for the ages, and this Colts team is set to be one of the more dominant in the NFL if they can make a few adjustments and add just a few more pieces.
My 5 Predictions
Andrew Luck – The Colts have faced better pass defenses this year, and have had some moderate success. But what they need to focus on is keeping Luck off his back. They improved greatly in that area against Houston, and with the injuries that Baltimore has had, there’s a chance for success in the vertical game. Luck also needs to be smarter with this choices, and needs to complete more than 50% of his balls, something he hasn’t been able to do the last 4 weeks. We’ll give Luck 17/31 for 220 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
Reggie Wayne – Next to Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne has been the most important player in the Colts offense all season. He’s caught the second most passes in his career (106), and for the second most yards in his career (1,355). If he can make some plays to keep drives progressing down the field, it could be a good day for Indianapolis. He gets 7 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Joe Flacco – He’s been consistent, but not great, throughout his career. Against a poor Colts pass defense, he could have an astounding day, but Indy’s corners have been playing better as of late (see: Houston). I don’t think Flacco will have to throw a ton for the Ravens to win, though. He completes 20/30 passes for 245 yards and a 2 touchdowns, with one interception.
Ray Rice – He will be the x-factor in this game. If he can pull an Arian Foster and just demolish the Colts defense, the game will be over. If he can be somewhat contained, the Colts have a good shot at moving to the next round. I see Ray carrying the ball 25 times for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Final Score – The Colts will put up a good fight in this one, and may even lead the game heading into the fourth quarter. But on the Ravens last drive, they will give a healthy dose of Ray Rice, who runs one in for the go ahead score. Baltimore ends Indy’s playoff run early, 34-28.
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