Indy's rookie Andrew Luck led his Colts to an 11-5 season under head coach Chuck Pagano, who has been battling Leukemia but returned to the sideline last week to lead the team over Houston. The Ravens will have soon-to-retire linebacker Ray Lewis back on the field today, in what will be his final game at M&T Bank Stadium. Perhaps that adds a little bit of added motivation for Baltimore?
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
1 PM, M&T Bank Stadium
Favorite: Baltimore by 7
Baltimore's Joe Flacco is the first quarterback since Otto Graham to take his team to the postseason in the first five seasons in the league. With a 5-4 career postseason record and an expiring contract this season, Flacco and the Ravens offense will be looking to take the team to the next level. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will need to get the ball to Ray Rice early and often, however, in order to pull away with a victory over Indy today.
The Ravens are 0-4 all-time in postseason games in which Flacco attempts 30+ passes. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has just three career postseason touchdowns and 444 yards in 7 games, with one 100+ yard performance. Against Indy's 29th-ranked run defense, Rice will need 25-30 touches in order to control the game clock and wear down the front seven of the Colts.
The most important thing for Indianapolis to accomplish on offense will be to protect Andrew Luck. A healthy Lewis and Suggs could be trouble for this offensive line, and if he isn't protected against a team such as Baltimore, turnovers are bound to happen.
Offensive 2012 Stats
Indianapolis: 18th-ranked scoring, 7th-ranked passing, 22nd-ranked rushing
Baltimore: 10th-ranked scoring, 15th-ranked passing, 11th-ranked rushing
Defensive 2012 Stats
Indianapolis: 21st-ranked scoring, 21st-ranked passing, 29th-ranked rushing
Baltimore: 12th-ranked scoring, 17th-ranked passing, 20th-ranked rushing
With offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of the Colts hospitalized, the young rookie will be thrown out there with quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen calling the plays today. Without much of a running game––rookie Vick Ballard was team's leading rusher with 814 yards, 3.9 Y/C––all the pressure will be on Luck to perform. If he isn't protected against this Ravens' defense, they will eat him alive. And I expect that to happen to the poor guy today.
An even more motivated Ravens' defense, which will be looking to get Ray at least one more game, and a motivated, healthy Lewis, will be enough to limit the damage Luck and Reggie Wayne do in the passing game. It'll be tough to win against this team with a one-dimensional offense (not expecting much from the running game).
The key will be on offense for Baltimore, as they will need to put 20+ points up on the scoreboard today. If Caldwell is smart, he will get Rice the ball from the start. Rice has yet to get 30 carries in a game this season, but they went 5-1 in games that Rice received 20 or more carries. Also, 6-2 in games that Rice gets into the end zone. I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but come on, how long do you think it'll take Baltimore to realize that they win games under Rice, not Flacco?
Things to Remember While Watching
*Indy's Reggie Wayne needs just 6 receptions to jump to No. 2 on the all-time postseason receptions list (Jerry Rice is No. 1, of course).
*No Bruce Arians today, so quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen will be calling the plays for Luck.
*This will be Ray Lewis' first game since October 14, 2012.
*Baltimore's offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was Indy's head coach from 2009-11.
Key Players for Each Team
*Andrew Luck: Without play-caller Bruce Arians on the sidelines calling the plays for today's game, even more pressure falls on Luck's right arm. He could have a good day if he receives the necessary protection, but a four or five sack game could be coming his way against Baltimore's rested up defense.
*Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis: Indy's two top pass rushers will need a huge day in putting pressure on Flacco. If you get enough pressure on him and rattle him, he starts to make mistakes and turn the ball over. Forcing turnovers on defense will be huge for the Colts and may be the only way they have a chance at getting the Ravens off the field if Rice has a good day.
*Joe Flacco: Hopefully, for Baltimore's sake, Flacco wont be throwing the ball 30+ times today. But he's still a key player because what he does will obviously play a huge role in what the Ravens do offensively. In his nine career playoff games, Flacco has 8 TDs and 8 INTs. Seven of those eight interceptions came in losses, including two multi-interception games. Clearly, he'll need to protect the ball and pass under 30 times in order for this offense to click today.
*Ray Rice: The only two key players I'm mentioning are offensive players, and there's a reason for that. I don't think it's any secret that the Baltimore defense has the advantage over Indy's offense. But the result of today's game revolves around what the Ravens can do on offense. I'm thinking Indy sees a heavy dose of Rice, and he breaks 130 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
This is a tough match-up, but I think we'll at least see a close game today unlike last night's Packers victory. A mistake-free day for the two quarterbacks is crucial, but with an advantage in the run game and on defense, not to mention Baltimore is playing at home (6-2 at M&T this season), I believe the Ravens will prevail in this match-up and live to see another Ray Lewis postseason game.
Final Prediction: Ravens 21, Colts 17
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