The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion is expected to return to the Baltimore Ravens lineup as they host rookie Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Wild Card matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.
The 38-year-old tore his triceps in Week 6 and hasn’t appeared since. However Baltimore never officially ruled out his return and the Ravens sorely need his help after losing four of their last games, giving up an average of 27.8 points per game in each loss.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is the only player to ever start under center in the first five years of his career. In nine playoff starts, Flacco has eight touchdowns to eight interceptions and 54.3 completion percentage.
Baltimore ended their season with a 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but played most of their second stringers, and rested starters for the Wild Card.
The Ravens offense floundered late in the season and they fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and promoted Rashad Caldwell. Baltimore has now turned to a more vertical passing game, which will make Flacco’s production key throughout the post season.
But the Ravens haven’t forgotten about running back Ray Rice. After five years in the league, Rice has established himself as a between the tackles runner, and speedy enough to bounce outside. This season he tallied, 1,143 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and also caught 61 balls for 478 yards and one score.
The Colts are the most feel good story in the NFL. After parting ways with quarterback Peyton Manning, Indianapolis thought it was in the midst of rebuilding a team that went 2-14 last season. The franchise was then hit with the news that head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.
Pagano and Indianapolis overcame all those odds. Pagano returned to the sidelines in Week 17, and the Colts improved by nine wins under interim coach Bruce Arians. Pagano is very familiar with Ravens, spending four seasons in Baltimore as the secondary coach and defensive coordinator.
Luck set a new NFL rookie passing record with 4,374 yards and tossed 23 touchdowns, and led four fourth-quarter comebacks. He reportedly had some trouble with his knee, but practiced all week and is listed as probable.
Indianapolis was one of the youngest teams in the NFL, with rookies T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard developing with Luck along the way. Hilton is the team’s second leading receiver with 50 catches for 861 yards and seven touchdowns, while Ballard steadily improved and finished the season with 814 yards and two scores.
Should the Colts pull off the upset, they would travel to Denver to take on Indianapolis legend Manning. Baltimore would also travel to Mile High, since Houston took care of the Bengals Saturday.
The game begins at 1 p.m. EDT, and will be broadcast by CBS.
Betting Odds: Baltimore is favored by 6.5 points.
Over/Under: 47 points
Prediction: The Ravens stumbled into the playoffs, losing four of their last five games, going 1-2 at home. Baltimore’s success will hinder on Rice. Indianapolis will keep this game close, and Luck will mount another fourth quarter comeback.
Prediction Score: Indianapolis 20, Baltimore 17