Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at Baltimore Ravens (10-6) -7
After a very dismal 2-14 season in 2011 the Indianapolis Colts were the topic of conversation in the offseason. After using their first overall pick on Stanford QB Andrew Luck, and releasing Peyton Manning fans expected a long grueling rebuilding process, yet here we are 17 NFL weeks later prepping for a postseason game. Luck looks to be the bright young star that he was projected to be and Colts future looks very promising. Ray Lewis and every other aging player in the league try to keep playing, yet at some point you realize it’s over. Unfortunately for Ravens fans this game could be Lewis’s “last ride” to quote his words to his teammates.
Ray Lewis has been the emotional and physical leader for the Ravens defense for an impressive 17 years. Lewis has only played for the Ravens, there he has been to the Pro Bowl 13 times, won a Super Bowl ring on top of being the Super Bowl MVP, he was also named defensive player of the year twice. Lewis is also the only player in NFL history to have at least 40 career sacks and 30 interceptions.
The Ravens defense has struggled this year and will have to find a way to shut down the Colts 7th ranked passing attack. Historically Baltimore has been a very strong defense but this year it finished 17th in the league, it’s lowest finish since 2002. The Ravens have battled injuries all year with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bernard Pollard, who all three hope to be on the field together for the first time this year against the Colts.
Even with their best unit available the Ravens defense won’t be able to win this game alone. They will need some help from 5th year quarterback Joe Falcco -the only starting QB in the NFL to make the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. The Ravens offensive struggles mid season sparked the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. In week 16, under direction of Jim Caldwell they finally seemed to hit stride with Flacco throwing for 309 yards and Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice combining for 230 yards on the ground.
In what has been one of the most impressive performances by a NFL rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has quickly become a household name to NFL fans. The Colts went from being the laughing stock of the NFL in 2011 to a playoff contender in less than a year’s time.
But similar to the Ravens, the Colts have been riding a wave of emotion all year. After a brutal battle with Leukemia that sidelined head coach Chuck Pagano, and sparked Luck and his team to start a campaign rightfully named “Chuck Strong”, Pagano now returns to his former job. But Luck has really been the difference maker for the Colts. He rallied the team to many impressive victories in his rookie season including beating the Packers, Lions, Texans, and Vikings.
In order to have success this week Andrew Luck will be leaning heavily on Chuck Pagano and his knowledge of the Ravens defense from his 4 years with the team. The Colts will look to establish their offense through the air as they have all season but don’t be surprised to see Luck tuck the ball a few times and pick up the first down himself. Indianapolis’s rushing defense (29th) will also need to find a way to stop Ray Rice or they don’t stand much of a chance.
I have enjoyed watching Andrew Luck play all season but the Colts have struggled on the defensive side of the ball all year. My gut feeling is that the Ravens will win this game and get knocked off next week by the Broncos. The Ravens match up well against the Colts and will need to find some of that offensive spark they had in week 16 if they want to get a victory for Ray Lewis. There will be more emotion in this game than any other playoff game this weekend so anything can happen, but I find it very hard to believe that it will be a blowout by either team.
Colts 24, Ravens 28