If anyone would have predicted that the team with the top pick in the 2012 NFL draft would win eleven games and be picked by several national experts to win their first playoff game back in March, well they might have thought that the inmates had taken over the asylum. But that is just what is happening today as the 5th seeded Indianapolis Colts travel to frigid Baltimore and battle the 4th seeded Ravens for the final AFC Wild Card game.
Indianapolis Colts (5) @ Baltimore Ravens (4)
It seemed like it was going to be a really long rebuilding season in Indianapolis after it was learned early in the season that he would be taking a leave of absence to undergo treatment for cancer. Add this to an offense that had rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and just a bunch of guys. Things weren’t looking bright for the young team as they struggled out to a 2-3 start while struggling on both sides of the ball. Then something clicked.
Since that start, the Colts have won nine of their last eleven including a regular season finale whipping of fellow playoff team Houston. By now, to call them a fluke would be quite foolish. Even a team with a schedule that has been admittedly light as theirs, it’s tough for a young franchise like this to play that consistently every week. As many expected, it has all started and ended with the top pick in the draft; Andrew Luck.
In all of my years of watching football, it has been a long time since there was as much of a consensus “can’t miss” prospect as Luck. And for all of the hype and recognition he got before he even took one snap in the pro’s, he’s delivered. Sure, there are many things when you peruse his stats that might lead one to think this is a foolish statement, but consider that he is a rookie and then reassess.
Luck has been prone to turning the ball over and even being a non-factor for long stretches during rookie growing pains, but to not expect those would be a bit too rough on him. He did break the NFL rookie passing record this year, by the way. So while there are some red flags in his game this year, his clutch play in the fourth quarter this year is undeniable. His proneness to the rookie mistakes is something the Ravens defense will likely focus on.
The Ravens seem to have gone the opposite way of the Colts, as they were being talked about as the possible top seed in the conference before their December collapse had some wondering if they’d possibly slip out of the playoffs all together. Their 9-2 start is now vastly overshadowed by their 1-4 finish to the regular season. This led to the team making a change at offensive coordinator and, while it was the right move, that’s not usually the type of move a championship contender usually does this late in the season.
With the high emotion that will be Ray Lewis possibly playing in his final game, the Ravens defense needs to morph back into that team that made you think of defense first for them to win this ball game. On the other side of the ball, Ray Rice needs to be the workhorse. Indy has struggled against the run and the Ravens need to abuse this with one of the best runners in the game. If the offense has Flacco throwing forty plus times tomorrow, we might see the road upset.
Perhaps it’s because I pay so close attention to the AFC South that I think this game will surprise a lot of people. Like Houston, Baltimore has gotten cold at just the most inopportune time and they look to be flailing. But just like the Texans, they’ll get the chance to get their mojo back at home; a place where they were next to unbeatable before their December swoon. However, I have little confidence in the Baltimore offense and I’m picking the upset here from a team playing with nowhere to go but up.
Colts 27 Ravens 23