Looking past an opponent in preparation for a playoff push is something the Baltimore Ravens and none of the potential playoff teams are doing at this stage of the season.
While the Ravens no longer control their pathway to the NFL‘s postseason, their chances of making it are much greater if they take care of business and win at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday. If Baltimore does happen to make the playoffs, they will in all likelihood travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Indianapolis Colts in the first round as they face the 4-11 Jacksonville Jaguars at home to close out the 2013 regular season. The Colts will be playing for positioning so don’t expect them to pull their starters unless they gain a comfortable margin over their AFC South division foe.
So how would the Ravens stack up against the Colts?
While the Ravens have struggled against tougher competition like the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, the Colts have wins overs the Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks. Those teams are a combined 46-10 against the rest of the NFL. However, Indianapolis also has a 40-11 loss to the 10-5 Arizona Cardinals and a 38-8 home defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Rams. Who are the real Colts?
The Colts are a team who has had to change their identity somewhat from year’s past due to injuries and an up-and-down offense much like the Ravens. Their running game hasn’t been spurred by Trent Richardson like they thought it would have when they gave the Cleveland Browns a first-round pick for the second-year back. Donald Brown has assumed the role as the starter and has played better, but they have the 20th-ranked rushing attack for a reason.
Robert Mathis has been a top-notch pass-rusher for the club as he trails only St. Louis’ Robert Quinn (18.0 sacks) for the NFL’s sack lead with 17.5 sacks. He also has forced eight fumbles this season, and with the Ravens having trouble protecting quarterback Joe Flacco all season long and his propensity to turn the ball over this could be a tough one-on-one for either tackle that bookends the offensive line.
Andrew Luck has been more efficient this season as he has thrown just nine interceptions in 15 games against 22 touchdown passes. The loss of Reggie Wayne has hurt his numbers somewhat as he’s had to rely more on prototypical deep threat T.Y. Hilton to be a go-to receiver. However, 2012′s No. 1 overall pick has thrown a touchdown pass to 10 different receivers as he is beginning to develop the foundation of the great quarterbacks in the league in terms of spreading the ball around to a plethora of targets. Luck has done a much better job in finding the second and third reads this season and has also been efficient in scrambling to throw and run — 370 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.
The Ravens could attack this team on the ground as they are 28th in the league in stopping the run, but Baltimore has struggled garnering any push from the big uglies up front as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are shells of their former selves from 2012 to now. Teams in the playoffs, no matter what they were during the regular season, have to run the football and play good defense in order to be successful. Think about the Ravens’ run last season. That offensive line assembled for the four-game run played better than the unit did during the entire 2012 campaign. While Flacco’s play carried the Ravens — 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions — the running game provided enough of a two-headed monster to keep teams off-balance as the Ravens totaled 28 points or more in three of their four playoff games last season.
On paper, the Ravens would have more than a puncher’s chance against the Colts as they have been an up-and-down team themselves. However, momentum is an interesting thing in sports as it can’t be predicted as to who will come in and want the football game more. If this match-up does happen, Indianapolis would love nothing more than to avenge last year’s 24-9 postseason loss as the Ravens let the curtain close on Ray Lewis‘ final home game with a comfortable victory.