The Baltimore Ravens expected their first game in the postseason to be after a bye week, but this season hasn’t gone exactly according to plan. The Indianapolis Colts? No one even thought they’d be above .500, let alone in the playoffs.
Their 11-5 record isn’t exactly telling the truth. For example, Andrew Luck, while throwing for 4374 yards and 23 touchdowns was also intercepted 18 times. More than that – 7 of his throws were dropped by defensive players. The Baltimore Ravens defense doesn’t really give second chances, dropping only one potential interception all season.
The two big names heading into the game aren’t quarterbacks. Ray Lewis hasn’t played in 10 weeks, but he’s geared up for one last postseason ride with the Ravens. The 13 time Pro Bowler and 7 time All-Pro announced he will retire after the Ravens end another postseason run, hopefully this time further than the AFC Championship game, which they have reached twice under John Harbaugh.
Chuck Pagano spent most of the season off duty, battling and currently overcoming leukemia, making his head coaching return in week 17, as the Colts beat the Texans at home. He was a defensive coordinator and secondary coach for the Ravens before taking the Colts position, which means he knows, just a bit, something about the Baltimore Ravens defense.
For the Colts, it’ll be the first time since 1996 that a quarterback not called Peyton Manning will take snaps under Center for them in the postseason. Among the many stats that might help determine the outcome, it’s Andrew Luck’s problems against five or more pass rushers, completing only 46.3% of his passes on his last four road games against added pressure, while also struggling to stretch the field on a consistent basis, but averaging 10.1 yards on target depth this season, the highest rate this season and the third-highest rate for any quarterback over the last five seasons. He’s going for the big plays, but the Ravens haven’t been as good this year in stopping them.
On the other side, the key will be Joe Flacco releasing the ball quickly, preferably to Ray Rice. The Baltimore Ravens are simply a better team when Rice gets around 30 touches or more each game. Flacco has a huge arm, but he tends to hold on to the ball a bit too long. lacco had the worst completion percentage (40.1%) on throws more than 10 yards downfield through Week 14, but by throwing downfield less often, Flacco’s efficiency has improved.
Prediction – The Baltimore Ravens have the simpler game plan. Ray Lewis, just by his presence, changes a lot in the Ravens’ defense. Enough for a win? Andrew Luck is worth a big mistake or two each game. First postseason game against a veteran team seems like a good place to do it again.