AFC: Ravens host Colts in Lewis’ Return

The AFC Wildcard matchup today features the AFC North division champion Baltimore Ravens against the Indianapolis Colts the first of two wildcard qualifiers for the postseason. Baltimore enters the game with an overall record of 10-6 on the season and 6-2 at home. Indianapolis ended its regular season 11-5 overall and 4-4 on the road.

Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts is back roaming the sidelines after missing nearly all season battling leukemia. Pagano at one time was the secondary coach and then moved to defensive coordinator for the Ravens to help them earn an AFC championship before moving on to Indianapolis.

When Pagano left the team to fight and eventually beat leukemia, the Colts were just 1-2. While he was away, he was still close, remaining in contact with Bruce Arians the interim coach. The team eventually rallied to win five of its last six games and qualify for the playoffs after winning just one game the entire 2011 season.

What Pagano knows about the defense for the Ravens will be beneficial in their matchup today against his former team. The Ravens defense has not been what it has been in the past as age has caught up with veteran players, injuries sidelined Terrell Suggs for the first six games of the season and Ray Lewis has been out for the past eight weeks. However, Lewis says he will return to play in this matchup.

However, after Lewis announced he was retiring to play in today’s game, he told reporters at a press conference he was retiring after the season after 17 years as a pro. Lewis played in 13 Pro Bowls, was All-Pro seven times and named the league’s defensive player of the year twice. He is the NFL’s only player in history to have at least 30 interceptions and 40 sacks.

The Colts have won 8 of the last 9 games played between the two teams, but that could be very misleading as all eight of the victories took place while Peyton Manning was with the Colts. The sole loss was the last matchup between the two teams in December of 2011, in which the Ravens won 24-10. Manning was still technically a Colt at that time but was out injured.

Andrew Luck the rookie starting quarterback for the Colts will be playing in his first postseason game. He and an up and down rookie season but ended the season with five touchdown passes and no interceptions over his last three games.

Baltimore was no. 17 in total defense this season, the lowest they have ranked as a defensive unit since they were no. 22 in 2002. Baltimore also lost four of its past five games to end the season. Last week they lost 23-17 to Cincinnati, though many of the starters sat out that game.

Joe Flacco the Ravens’ starting quarterback only threw eight passes last week against Cincinnati and Ray Rice the team’s star running back only had three carries in the game. Both should be well rested for this matchup.

This will be the first time the entire season that Baltimore will have its complete defensive unit on the field as Suggs is healthy, Lewis returns and Bernard Pollard comes back after missing three weeks with a rib injury.

The Ravens have been given the status of favorite in this game by odds makers by as much as 7 points. However, they have not played well of late. I still like the Ravens straight up in this matchup, but would favor the Colts against the spread.

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