The former Baltimore franchise will head to it’s previous home on Sunday, as the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) will hit the road to take on the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Colts and Ravens will square off in the second of two AFC wildcard round games Sunday at 1 p.m. EST at M&T Bank Stadium.
These teams took very different paths to the playoffs and enter the playoffs on very different streaks.
The upstart Colts come into the playoffs with a very emotional win. Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who missed the majority of the season battling leukemia, returned and coached his team to a big win over the Houston Texans.
The loss by the Texans caused them to slide all the way down to the three-seed in the AFC, so it was a gratifying win for the Colts despite the victory not changing their playoff seeding.
The Colts enter the playoffs hot, as they have won 10 of their last 12 games. The only two losses during that impressive streak are loses in Houston and in New England, so they haven’t been losing to slouches.
The only problem for the Colts is that they have been basically unbeatable at home, with four of their five losses coming away from Lucas Oil Field. Unfortunately for the Colts, they won’t get a home game in this playoff year, so they must improve upon their road record if they are to make any noise this year.
However, unlike the Colts, the Ravens enter the playoffs having lost four of their last five games. The Ravens basically rested their starters in the regular season finale loss at the Cincinnati Bengals, but it doesn’t cancel out the inconsistent play over the last quarter of the season.
The good news for the Ravens is that Ray Lewis will return to action since tearing his triceps in a Week 6 victory. The Ravens will also get back Terrell Suggs, Bernard Pollard, Haloti Ngata and Anquan Boldin, whom the Ravens rested against the Bengals.
The Ravens will need their defense at full strength to deal with the supernova known as Andrew Luck. After winning two games last season, then deciding to not bring Peyton Manning back, a playoff berth this season seemed extremely farfetched.
However Luck has brought a winning attitude and veteran-like demeanor to a franchise that seemed destined for a rebuilding period.
Luck helped lead the Colts to the NFL’s 10th-ranked offense and seventh-ranked passing attack. Luck’s overall numbers are impressive and historically great for a rookie season, but he still made his share of mistakes.
Luck’s 18 interceptions were tied with Mark Sanchez for the second-highest total in the league, and was just one interception off the league lead. Luck’s 23 turnovers also rank second in the NFL behind the woeful Sanchez.
That turnover propensity from Luck led the Colts to a minus-12 in turnover differential, which is 13th in the AFC. The Minnesota Vikings (minus-1) are the only other playoff team with a minus in the turnover differential, so Luck and the Colts will need to be much more responsible on the offensive side while more opportunistic on the defensive side.
Conversely, the Ravens are plus-9 in the turnover differential department, good for third in the AFC. Joe Flacco only threw 10 interceptions, while Ray Rice only lost one fumble.
Speaking of Rice, look for him to receive a big workload against the Colts’29th-ranked run defense. Rice finished the season 11th in rushing yards, but more importantly for this time of the season, ranked only tied for 13th in carries.
Thus with Rice being pretty fresh and facing a porous run defense, look for him to have a big day for the Ravens.
All things considered, Luck and the Colts took a bigger step forward than probably every other team in the NFL this season.
However, Luck and the Colts are much more vulnerable away from their dome, and they are taking on a team that has won a playoff game in five straight seasons, which no one else has currently done.
Luck and the Colts’ future is beyond bright, but they will learn a humbling lesson as the Ravens will win this game 27-17 and end the Colts storybook season.