Sunday will be a classic display of just how much a team’s feelings about their leaders play a role in victory.
Once again we have another wild card matchup between two teams headed in opposite directions. The Indianapolis Colts, led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, have ridden the emotional energy devoted to their head coach, Chuck Pagano to win 9 of their last 11 and finish 11-6 after starting 2-3. Pagano has been successfully battling Leukemia since early in the season and has inspired his team by continuing to lead indirectly. Their 11-6 record earned them a wildcard berth after a dismal season last year in the absence of their former leader, Peyton Manning.
The Colts finished their season by welcoming back their beloved head coach Pagano in a 28-16 win against a Texans team that needed the win to cement home field advantage. They won 5 of their last 6 and were only beaten by a Texans team at Houston that got a whole lot of help from special teams.
The Ravens have looked besides themselves to end the season. After an impressive stretch of 4 clutch wins the Ravens dropped 4 of their last 5 which more importantly displayed a lack of offensive rhythm and defensive chemistry. The defensive chemistry should not suffer at all today as their franchise linebacker from the “U” Ray Lewis will be stomping his way back onto the field after recovering from an injury in an “every playoff loss will be his last game, and every win will bring him out again” tirade. Save a 33-14 trouncing of a reeling Giants team, the Ravens have given up an uncharacteristic amount of points to their opposition to finish the season.
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The Ravens defense has been dominant over the past 15 years, seeing only a bit of a drop off in 2 or so years during Lewis’ tenure. A hard-hitting, ball-hawking, intimidating, but above all stylish crew of grunts has gotten it done year after year. Injuries have really hurt the Ravens in 2012, a crew that includes highlight reel makers such as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and many more notables has been aging and perhaps losing a step. Even before his injury it was clear that Ray Lewis was not himself on the field (though he can definitely still lay the lumber).
The Ravens offense has always fed off of their defense, and when clicking on all cylinders is as potent a pass offense as any. They also have the ever-rolling bowling ball that is Ray Rice still choppin’ wood in the backfield. He has had an up and down season, but there is no doubt that he will be tearing it up against a Colts defense that has really struggled against the run.
The game will come down to heart. If the Colts defense can bottle up the run game, and keep the rhythm of their pass offense going then they have a good chance to steal this one away from Ray and company. However, the more likely scenario in my eyes is that the veteran know-how will outshine the young Colt talent as the Ravens execute the game plan to perfection in the biggest moment. Ravens keep Ray dressed for the next round in a 27-20 win.