What Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts have done this season is nothing short of astonishing. After a 2-14 season that left them with the worst record in the league and subsequently the number one pick. It’s amazing what Luck has been able to accomplish, becoming a strong candidate for rookie of the year while leading the revival of a storied franchise. But it is not that easy to completely renovate a team without some leftover shortcomings. The key to beating the Colts will be to ignore (to an extent) one facet of the Colts offense and focus most of the attention towards the other.
Ray Lewis will make his final home appearance when he and the Baltimore Ravens take on the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. And while the Ravens won the AFC North, they enter the playoffs on a bit of a sour note, having lost to the Bengals (who were eliminated by the Houston Texans for the second year in a row). While saying goodbye to one of the game’s all-time greats would be saddening, this article will look to shed light on how to end Lewis’ great career a little prematurely.
To send Lewis off into the sunset, teams will have to aggressively attack the Ravens defense, especially with the running game. Despite the team predicating much of its success over the last 10-15 years on the defense, injuries took their toll on the unit this season. The defense was average, nothing more, and nothing less. They ranked middle of the pack in most defensive statistics, and played through injuries to Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Lardarius Webb as well as a decline in play from Ed Reed. The defense is no longer the strength of this team. So if opposing teams want to beat the Ravens, they’ll have to be aggressive against this aging defense.
The Minnesota Vikings come into the playoffs on quite a roll. They’ve won their last four games, including wins against the Bears, Texans, and the Packers. Although Adrian Peterson fell nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, Peterson and his 200 yard effort in week 17 helped propel the Vikings into the playoffs. The defense has improved, and was middle-of-the-pack in terms of rankings. So the key to beating the Vikings will come down to attacking their offense.
Everyone knows the Vikings’ offense runs through Peterson. Despite tearing his ACL last season, he’s continued to be the workhorse that carries the offensive burden for Minnesota. And with the second highest single season total under his belt, he’s doing a darn good job at running too. So if teams want to prevent a Vikings win, defenses will have to make quarterback Christian Ponder beat them.
The Packers enter the playoffs on a rather sour note. Green Bay’s loss to the Vikings in week 17 coupled with the 49ers’ win knocked the Packers out of the second seed and out of a first round bye. The Packers will face the Vikings again this week, but in the confines of Lambeau Field this go around. Although the Packers are at home this weekend, it is not a forgone conclusion that they’ll win. The Packers are only 2-4 at home during the playoffs since 2002. The Packers are getting healthy however, and will be a tough matchup in these playoffs regardless of where they’re playing. Receivers Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are expected to be back and ready to go, along with Outside linebacker Clay Matthews. But the key to beating the Packers lies with keeping the offense off the field.
Despite a 12-4 season that marked a second straight AFC South division title, the Houston Texans come limping into the playoffs. Houston lost three of its last four games, resulting in a loss of a first round bye. Houston had been the top seed/team in the AFC all season, but their December struggles knocked them down to the third seed. The offense has struggled, scoring no more than 16 points in each of those three losses. But as the playoffs begin, Houston will look to repeat their Wild Card success of last season with another playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. So what will the Bengals need to do to avenge last season’s playoff elimination? Force quarterback Matt Schaub to beat them.
The Texans have one of best running backs in the league with Arian Foster, who ran for over 1,400 yards this season. There is no denying Foster’s ability to effectively run and take control of a game. In Houston’s four losses, Foster received 16 or less carries. So if the Bengals want to win, they’ll have to force Houston’s hand and keep the ball out of Foster’s hand.