The 4th seed Baltimore Ravens will host the 5th seed Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at 1pm ET in a Wild Card matchup. Adding to what was already a great game, Ravens LB Ray Lewis announced on Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the season. His retirement means this will probably be his final home game.
1. Ray Lewis
If you think Ray Lewis plays with a lot of emotion in regular games, imagine what it will be like on Sunday. M&T Bank Stadium has always been a tough place to play with loud fans. Now with this being Lewis’s final home game, the place will be rocking all day long. Lewis has been on the injured reserve/designated to return list since week 6 with a triceps injury. The plan was for Lewis to get healthy for the playoffs and, that is exactly what happened. In game, it is uncertain if Lewis will play all the time, or if he will just play situationally. I know Lewis will want to play all the time, and he probably will get to do that. One thing that is certain about his in game impact is the whole Ravens teams will be fired up to try and win this game for Ray. The fans will be just the same, especially when Lewis will do his pre-game introduction for the last time.
2. Chuck Pagano
Before Lewis announced his retirement, Pagano was the main storyline for this game. Last year, Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator. In the offseason he was hired to be the Colts head coach. Four games into the season, he was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia. This will be his first time returning to Baltimore since he left for the Colts. Pagano was loved by the players and he still is. If he didn’t have to play the Ravens, you know the team would be rooting for him to win.
The emotion of the Ravens will be matched by the Colts, whose whole season has been an emotional roller coaster. Nobody expected the Colts to make the playoffs after they went 2-14 last season. However, they have played for Pagano all season long under the motto of Chuckstrong. Most Colts player shaved their heads to show support of Pagano. Even two cheerleaders shaved their head during their game against the Bills. Some Ravens players showed their support by shaving their heads as well. This game will be pitting emotion against emotion.
Lastly, since Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator last year, he knows the Ravens very well. New defensive coordinator Dean Pees has changed the defense a little but, too much change wouldn’t have worked. Its not just Pagano that will know the Ravens well either. Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-2011 and also was with the Cleveland Browns from 2001-2003. He has faced the Ravens many times so he knows what to expect. He also knows what to expect from Dean Pees as Pees was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots from 2006-2009 and faced Arians. The coaching battle in this game is going to be a key factor in who wins.
3. Ray Rice
This matchup favors Rice heavily. The Colts currently rank 29th in rush defense allowing 137.5 yards per game. If the offensive line can control the Colts defensive front, Rice will get into the second level and run for 10 yards consistently. In week 16 against the Chiefs, the Colts allowed 352 rushing yards. Of these 352 yards, 226 of them went to Chiefs starter, Jamaal Charles. This is good news for Rice and his backup Bernard Pierce.
The bad news for Rice is that he has been in a playoff slump. In his last five playoff games, Rice hasn’t rushed for more than 70 yards. He has also averaged 3.3 yards per carry in these games. Over his last five games (not counting Cincinnati because he barely played), Rice has averaged 88 yards per game and his career average for yards per carry is 4.5. Lastly, over Rice’s last four playoff games, he has had less than 100 total yards. Due to the Colts bad run defense, Rice should be able to snap these two streaks.
4. Ed Reed
As we know, this will probably be Ray Lewis’s last home game. However, it could be Reed’s last home game as well. Reed is a free agent at the end of the season and he hasn’t had contract negotiations since 2011. CBS Sport’s Jason La Canfora has speculated that this could be Reed’s last home game. The reason for all this speculation is Reed has debated retirement over the last few offseasons. Some people believe that since Lewis will retire, Reed will join him.
On to the game impact for Reed, he will be facing a rookie QB who has thrown for 18 INTs in Andrew Luck. Over his career, Reed has feasted on rookie QBs. When you combine this with the fact that Reed has had some great playoff games, he could be primed for a big game. The last game that Reed recorded an interception in was week 13 against the Steelers. Luck has played well in his rookie year but, turnovers have been a problem. The Ravens defense is very good at forcing turnovers so Luck will have to limit them if he wants to led the Colts to the next round. Expect Reed to intercept one of Luck’s passes on Sunday.