Ray Lewis is retiring, but what difference will that make? Can Andrew Luck sour to new heights? Let's take a closer look at the first Sunday playoff game.
When it comes to playoff point spreads, nothing is much of a surprise. The books usually do a great job at finding a sharp line that spreads public (and sharp) opinion. However, what we have here is one of the most intriguing lines of the weekend. They opened up with the Ravens as -6.5 point favorites and it's taken almost the full week before we've seen any hints of movement. Right now, books are creeping towards -7, but you'll have to lay a little extra juice depending on what side you like.
What strikes me is that the line didn't move to -7 when the lines were posted last Sunday. This is a clear indication that nobody with a clue respects the Ravens that much. In fact, I'm surprised that they opened up this high. I'll gladly pay a little extra and buy an affordable +7 to take a chance on Andrew Luck and company (odds from SBRforum).
When it comes to unpredictability, it doesn't get any more obvious than these two teams. What can we expect this Sunday from these clubs? There's so many questions and not nearly enough answers.
To begin with, Andrew Luck is a bit of an enigma early in his career. He already has four 4th quarter comebacks and seven game winning drives under his belt. He also has a subpar completion percentage and lot of interceptions. He hasn't completed over 50% of his passes in five straight games, but he hasn't turned the ball over in his last three either.
Surrounding him are eight offensive starters without any playoff experience. Some will say this is a negative, but it could easily be argued that they can play without fear, too. This would be much more of a concern if it was the defensive side of the ball.
Another factor helping out an inexperienced offense is the coaching staff. Chuck Pagano led this Ravens defense for four years, while Bruce Arians coached against them for eight. If anything, they'll be prepared and know what to expect.
They'll be sure to test an average pass defense with the trio of Wayne, Avery, and Hilton.
Up front, Luck should have some time to make things happen because the Ravens pass rush has also been average this year. They do resemble a bend-but-don't-break unit as they tighten up on 3rd down and in the red zone. That said, they didn't do well in those areas during the last month of the season either. This is not a defense I fear, and something tells me the Colts won't either.
Ray Rice and What?
For the Ravens, will Ray Lewis return be enough? He's going to have trouble if he's asked to cover tight ends in space.
Terrell Suggs isn't the dominating force he was pre-injury and losing Lardarius Webb still hurts. These two are intregal to this defensive unit. Even Haloti Ngata is banged up and playing below the level he's used to.
On the flip side, Boldin, Leach, and Yanda are also among the walking wounded on offense.
Flacco has plenty of playoff experience (5-4 record, 8 TDs, 8 INTs), but he's being asked to throw the deep ball much less under Jim Caldwell. The numbers suggest this isn't a good thing.
The real key for this game will be how much Ray Rice can take advantage of the leagues worst run defense. This isn't front page news, but it's the one match-up that I will worry about on Sunday.
I don't expect miracles, but I do hope the Colts can stay disiplined and do a respectable job. If they get torched on the ground nothing else is going to matter. What the Colts defense does have going for them is how inconsistent the Ravens offense has been this year. They rank near the very bottom in that category. Therefore, it should surprise no one when I say Baltimore rank way down the list on third down conversions as well.
Statistically, the Ravens do have the edge in this matchup. When you combine home field advantage, they should be favored by more than a field goal. However, there is no way someone can justify to me that they should be full touchdown favorites. I realize the Colts defense might be one of the worst to ever grace a playoff field, but that would be much more of a problem if the Ravens were healthy and playing consistently. It's difficult to trust a team on the road in the playoffs, but I'm going to go ahead and fade an average Ravens team and take the points.
NFL Pick: IND +7.