The 2012 NFL Playoffs are finally upon us and the "tournament" will begin with the Wildcard Round this Saturday and Sunday. The AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens will host the Wildcard Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday at 1:00 pm EST.
If this game took place a year ago, the bigger story may have been Baltimore facing their old team in the Colts, but this year, that is one of the farthest things on the mind of NFL fans. There are so many headlines heading into this matchup, with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano missing most of the season as he was fighting Leukemia and on the Ravens side you now have the fact that Sunday, barring a miracle run by the Cincinnati Bengals, will be the last home game and perhaps the game ever played by legendary LB Ray Lewis. Ray announced on Wednesday that he will be retiring once Baltimore's season comes to an end, and giving this game that much more meaning for the Ravens. There are other headlines here too: Pagano will be facing his former team in the Ravens, Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will be facing his former team in the Colts, and with Ed Reed's future in Baltimore uncertain, this could be his last home game as a Raven as well. This game has so many headlines that I have hardly heard any actual preview of the two football teams playing each other.
Ravens101 is here to lay that out for you. Baltimore comes in as the number four ranked scoring offense at home this season and will be taking on a Colts defense that was the second worst road defense in the NFL this season. The Ravens will have to take advantage of a defense that has several holes in it, especially in regards to stopping the run. Indianapolis was 29th in the NFL is rushing yards allowed per game, so Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce should have a field day running the football, that will in turn set up the play action passing game for Joe Flacco to hit a bomb or two. Although the Colts struggle against the run more than the pass, their pass defense is not that strong either as it ranked 21st in the NFL this season. Baltimore by far has the advantage on this side of the football, and will need to take advantage of that.
On the flip side of the football, Indianapolis and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck comes in with the 10th ranked total offense in the NFL and are in the top half of the league in average points per game on the road. Believe it or not, Baltimore actually allowed more points per game at home, than they did on the road, thus will need to find a way to slow down this Colts offense. There is a glaring weakness on the offensive side of the football for the Colts and that is their ability to turn the football over, as they averaged 1.7 giveaways per game this season, and that number grows astronomically on the road at an average of 2.5 giveaways per game. Baltimore's ability to get pressure on Luck will be a big factor in how many turnovers the Ravens can force, and ultimately influence the outcome of the game. Incase you were wondering, Baltimore's offense was tied for second best in the NFL averaging just one turnover a game, and at home it was less than one a game at 0.9.
This game puts strength vs weakness for both teams, as the Colts strength, their offense, will be up against the Ravens weakness, their defense and vice versa. The ultimate factor in this game will be which team's weaker side of the football can play the better game. The Ravens, Baltimore's fans, and the NFL as a whole will be tuned in for the possibility of it being Lewis's last game, but Ravens players will be playing their hearts out to make sure Sunday is not the final stop on Ray Lewis's ride.
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