When you get down to it, the winner of this game will be the team who wanted it more. Both teams are playing for someone else. The Colts are playing for head coach Chuck Pagano, who has been fighting a treatable form of leukemia.
And then you have the Ravens, whose star on defense Ray Lewis announced this week he would be retiring at the end of the season. The Ravens want it for Ray.
What is different about the Colts, however is that they have been playing for their coach all season. Players and fans coined the term “Chuckstrong” for Pagano when he started treatment. The Colts had a 1-2 record at the time and ended the season with an 11-5 record for their coach.
Ray Lewis has been sidelined for ten weeks, and when he announced his retirement no one was surprised. Lewis was declared active during the last week of the season, but sat the bench with the intention to play the first round of the playoffs. Ray Lewis will be playing like every game could be his last.
But if you look past the inspiration, it all comes down to execution. The Ravens will have to stop Andrew Luck, and put pressure on the rookie. Force him to get rid of the ball quickly, and capitalize on his mistakes. The Colts offensive line needs to protect their quarterback, and allow him time to make his plays. The Colts defense also need to contain Ray Rice, who is averaging 7.8 yards this season. While he averages 9.1 yards in wins, he only averages 4.9 yards in losses. Containing Rice is a key to the game.
Another factor for the Colt’s will be playing in M&T Bank Stadium. With the Texans beating the Bengals, the game on Sunday will be the only playoff game played in Baltimore this postseason. Therefore, the game tomorrow will be Ray Lewis’ last home game. Ever. The Colt’s have to adapt to the noise, as every fan in that Stadium will be cheering louder than they have all season.
This 2012 Indianapolis team is truly a Cinderella story. The Colts last year went 2-14, acquiring the first overall pick in the draft. With that pick they drafted Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who was a Heisman finalist his senior year. With their new team and new motivation, they rolled to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. That’s a massive transformation in a year’s time.
Baltimore’s defense, which is usually top notch every year, simply lacked this year, primarily due to injuries to key players. The Ravens finished 17th in total defense, its lowest ranking since 2002. Luck and Pagano believe they can use that to their advantage. And when you look at it, the Ravens haven’t been able to stop powerful quarterbacks. Within the last 5 games, they lost to RG3, Peyton Manning, Charlie Batch, and Andy Dalton.
This game will come down to who shows up on Sunday afternoon, and who wants it more.