Last Sunday, the Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular season finale, 23-17. The majority of the game was played by the second-stringers on both teams. The Ravens had pulled out most of their starters by the beginning of the second half, while the Bengals brought most of theirs out in the first minutes of the second half. Ravens second-year QB Tyrod Taylor entered the game for his first real NFL experience. By the time the starters were all out, the game was tied 7-7. The Ravens got those points when third-string RB Anthony Allen pounded the ball in for a two-yard score, the first of his career. With the Ravens trailing 13-7 to begin the fourth quarter, Tyrod ran the ball down the field and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Ravens the lead. After a Bengals field goal, Carlos Dunlap picked off Tyrod and returned it home for a touchdown. A missed field goal by Justin Tucker didn't help the Ravens' attempts at getting back in the ball game, which ended up helping to seal the Bengals victory. With this loss, the Ravens finish up the regular season with a 10-6 record, an AFC North division title, and their fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Player of the Game: Ravens RB Bernard Pierce-22 attempts, 89 rushing yards
Key Takeaway from this Game: Don't read into this loss too much. At the most, this was a third pre-season game. The Ravens had nothing to lose and very little to gain with a win and this game. John Harbaugh smartly opted to give his players some rest.
This Sunday, the Ravens open their run to the Lombardi trophy by hosting the Indianapolis Colts, who went 11-5 on the season. There is certainly no shortage of story lines in this one. Of course there's the animosity that Baltimoreans feel for losing their Colts to the city of Indianapolis back in 1984, however I don't think that anger is the same that it used to be. The departure of Peyton Manning may have something to do with that. On Sunday, the Colts may still be announced as the "professional football team from Indianapolis" when they enter the playing field. You've also got the return of Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach for the Ravens. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia back in September, but is in remission and made his return to the sidelines just last week. To add to all that, Sunday could very well be the final home game for the face of the Ravens, with Ray Lewis announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the playoffs. To further read my thoughts on the career and legacy of #52, head to http://www.faniq.com/blog/Ray-Lewis-Retirement-Blog-60018 to check it out.
The Colts have had quite a season, gaining much of their energy and momentum from the situation they were put in after losing their leader. After having the worst record in the NFL last season, the Colts used the #1 overall pick to add QB Andrew Luck from Stanford. Luck has led the Colts on seven game-winning drives this season, a rookie record. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, but was also picked off eighteen times. His favorite target is veteran WR Reggie Wayne, who racked up 106 catches on the year for over 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Fellow receivers Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton combined for similar numbers as Wayne, with ten touchdowns between them. The Colts' running game has been suspect however, ranking 22nd in the NFL with just 104 yards per game on the ground. Rookie RB Vick Ballard rushed for 800 with just two touchdowns. He will get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, but he's had trouble with consistency over long periods of time.
On defense, the Colts rank in the bottom half of the NFL in all four major defensive categories. They are led by DE Dwight Freeney, who hasn't been nearly as productive this year as in previous years. The Colts also have two former Ravens on defense, Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski, who have helped introduce Pagano's defensive philosophy to their Colts teammates. Other factors on this side of the ball for the Colts include LB Jerrell Freeman, who led the team in tackles, and S Antoine Bethea, who has two sacks on the year. The defense is definitely the Colts' greatest liability, and one that Joe Flacco can take advantage off with a sound game of his own.
Prediction: This game will be quite an emotional roller-coaster. But with the announcement this week of Ray Lewis' retirement, I can't see the Ravens losing this one. That team is playing for Ray, and they want to make his final ride one to remember. Plus, the fans will be loud the entire game, so expect the Ravens to feed off of that. I have the Ravens winning, 27-17.
Key Matchups for Colts at Ravens
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne Edge: Wayne
Analysis: In a matchup of the former Miami teammates, Wayne's speed and explosive ability will propel him over a struggling and beat-down Reed.
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Colts QB Andrew Luck Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Luck has a knack for getting out of the pocket, so Sizzle and the rest of the Ravens pass rush will have a tough task of getting to Luck, but I believe they'll do it.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Colts CB Vontae Davis Edge: Smith
Analysis: I think Smith's speed and vertical ability will give Davis some tough times throughout the game.
Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Colts LB Robert Mathis Edge: Mathis
Analysis: Oher has been struggling mightily and Mathis is possibly the best pass rusher the Colts have. The Colts will sure look to take advantage of this mismatch.
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-QST
T Jah Reid-Toe-QST
G Joe Reitz-Concussion-OUT
RB Delone Carter-Ankle-QST
NT Antonio Johnson-Ankle-QST
T Winston Justice-Shoulder-QST
C A.Q. Shipley-Knee-QST
S Tom Zbikowski-Knee-QST
Playoff Scenarios: With a win on Sunday, the Ravens will go to one of two places. If the Bengals beat the Texans in Houston on Saturday night, the Ravens will go to New England and the Bengals will go to Denver. If the Texans win, the Texans will head to New England, and the Ravens to Denver.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!