Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ravens vs. Colts - Here We Go Again

Just like three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts will meet in the divisional round of the playoffs, fighting for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. This year, however, the roles appear to be reversed.

In 2006, the Ravens went 13-3 on the season placing them as the second seed, which gave them a bye week and home field advantage. The Colts barely made a wild card spot and had to play on the road. The Ravens came into the game rested and confident while the Colts were beat up and hungry. The Colts beat the Ravens soundly and went on the win the Super Bowl.

This year, the Colts secured the top seed in week 14 with a perfect record and benched their starters for the last two weeks, giving them a 14-2 record. They've had their bye week and will have home field advantage. The Ravens squeaked into the last wild card spot and had to play a big game on the road against the Patriots. They are going into Lucas Oil Stadium beat up and hungry. Judging by the way they put a whoopin' on the Patriots, they are very hungry. I'm hoping this role reversal plays out the same way and the Ravens are Super Bowl bound.

The trouble is Payton Manning. There's something almost super human about his ability to win ball games. Even when you have him against the ropes the way the Ravens did earlier in the season, he somehow pulls out a win almost by force of will. It's as if he puts some sort of telepathic whammy on the other team so they will give up and let him score those extra points to win. In fact, I don't even think of the Colts as a team but as Payton Manning and his support players. If the Colts had to lose Payton Manning for a season the way the Patriots did with Brady the previous season, I doubt that they would come out with a winning record. I think they would look a lot like the Cleveland Browns if they had to go through a season with Curtis Painter under center.

But the fact is, Manning is healthy and rested after having not played in almost a month. Of course, this strategy has always worked against them in the playoffs and I have to hope that this will hold true this year as well. Frankly, I don't respect a team that doesn't come out and try to win every week regardless of whether or not they have anything to play for. Sure, they were 14-0 and had already secured the top seed, but saying that you are willing to throw away a perfect record so you can focus on the playoff run is simply un-American, in my opinion. There has to be some kind of bad kharma in being a professional athletic team and simply giving up because you think you have it made. I know the Colts fans are angry, and Payton Manning looked pretty angry about it although he took the company line publicly. This has to come back to haunt them. At least, I have to hope it does.

More importantly to me, I have to believe that last Sunday was not an aberration and that the Ravens will come out again with something to prove. They damn near beat the Patriots in the regular season and they damn near beat the Colts as well. The Ravens settled the score with the Patriots, so they must do the same with the Colts. This is the way it should be if they are to make it to the Super Bowl. The Ravens have to beat the elite teams in order to prove that they belong in that same category. I think this is quite do-able if they stick to the game plan they had with New England and mitigate Payton Manning as much as possible. The trouble is, it's much harder to get pressure on Manning than Brady. Sack Brady a couple of times and he becomes rattled. Even if you manage to sack Manning at all, he seldom loses his focus. He's just too damn good.

So all I can hope for is rusty starters and bad kharma and a really hungry Ravens team. If the Ravens can take out the Colts, I think the rest would be gravy. If they have to face the Chargers, so what? The Chargers are soft and the Ravens have beaten them before. If the Ravens have to take on the Jets, how cool would that be? Rex Ryan and John Harbaugh in a fight for the championship. That's like comic book stuff! I can't wait!

If only there was no Payton.

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