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Colts vs Ravens Preview

2006/07 NFL Playoffs
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Divisional Playoff Preview

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NFL Playoff Preview - Indianapolis (13-4) at Baltimore (13-3)
by: MySportsbook.com

(My Sportsbook) - M&T Bank Stadium will be filled with many memories and emotions on Saturday when the Baltimore Ravens host the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

Baltimore was once home for the Colts, who left town for Indy in the middle of the night in March 1984. Then-owner Robert Irsay was responsible for the move and much of the hatred Ravens fans have for the Indianapolis franchise. Irsay's son, Jim, took over for his late father and will make his fourth trip back to Baltimore, where the Colts have beaten the Ravens just once in the three previous visits.

This will be the first-ever meeting in the postseason between both teams, and Baltimore fans still have images of Mayflower moving trucks in their heads.

Irsay's team is fresh off a 23-8 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at the RCA Dome in last week's wild card round of the playoffs. The AFC South-champion Colts were supposed to have a hard time stopping Kansas City running back Larry Johnson, but defied the odds with an uncharacteristically stout run defense. "LJ" was held to just 32 yards on 13 carries.

Peyton Manning didn't have the type of game he anticipated, either, as he passed for 268 yards with a touchdown but threw three interceptions. Manning, who was aided by a strong performance by rookie running back Joseph Addai against the Chiefs, will face the NFL's top-ranked defense on Saturday. He will be lucky to come out on top if he repeats his performance from a week ago.

The AFC North-champion Ravens, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, will force Indianapolis to stop their top back, Jamal Lewis. Lewis, the cornerstone of head coach Brian Billick's offense, will most likely carry the ball more often this weekend than Johnson. When he is running wild, it opens the passing game for veteran quarterback Steve McNair.

In his first season in Baltimore, McNair led the Ravens to a franchise-best 13 victories in the regular season and a first-round bye in the playoffs, winning the hearts of the Baltimore faithful at the same time. If the Colts decide to load the box in an attempt to stop Lewis, McNair will take advantage of the man-to-man coverage and pick apart Indy's defensive backfield.

SERIES HISTORY

The Colts have a 4-2 edge in their all-time series with the Ravens, including three straight victories. Indianapolis handed Baltimore a 24-7 defeat at M&T Bank Stadium in the 2005 regular-season opener and was a 20-10 home winner when the teams met in 2004. The Ravens have won two of the three all-time matchups between the clubs in Baltimore.

Indy coach Tony Dungy is 4-0 all-time against the Ravens, including a win while he was at the helm of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001. Baltimore's Billick is 1-3 against Indianapolis in his career and is 0-4 head-to- head against Dungy.

The Colts franchise called Baltimore home from 1953 through the 1983 season.

COLTS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS DEFENSE

Manning (4,397 passing yards, 31 TD, 9 INT) is known for struggling in big games and owns a 4-6 career record in the postseason. He is coming off a less than stellar performance against Kansas City in last week's opening round, completing 30-of-38 passes for 268 yards with a TD pass and three interceptions, two of which came from Chiefs cornerback Ty Law. The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player was bailed out by the Indy defense, though, to stay alive in his quest for a Super Bowl title. Manning, who led the league in touchdown passes and passer rating (101.0) during the regular season, faces an intimidating Baltimore defense which ended sixth against the pass in 2006. In five career games against the Ravens, Manning has thrown for 1,454 yards with nine touchdown passes and three picks for a 93.7 rating. He was sacked only once last week versus Kansas City and a mere 14 times during the regular season. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison (95 receptions, 1,366 yards, 12 TDs) and Reggie Wayne (86 receptions, 1,310 yards, 9 TDs) were not used very often in the win over the Chiefs, since Dungy was dedicated to the run. Harrison, who has a touchdown catch in three of the Colts' last four meetings with Baltimore, caught just two passes for 48 yards last week. Wayne added 36 yards and a score on five receptions and owns five touchdown catches in his last seven playoff games. Tight ends Ben Utecht (37 receptions, 377 yards) and Dallas Clark (30 receptions, 367 yards, 4 TD) will remain a big factor in the game plan. Clark made a huge impact last week, compiling 103 yards on nine catches. Six of his grabs resulted in first downs. Starting guard Ryan Lilja has missed the last two games with a strained right knee and is questionable for Saturday.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan implements the 4-3 defense in Baltimore and has the bulk up front to stop Addai. Trevor Pryce (47 tackles, 13 sacks) is a veteran end who signed with the club in the offseason after Denver released him to save money. He led the Ravens in sacks and has been ecstatic playing for a winner. Pryce has also been instrumental in the locker and in the development of nose guard Kelly Gregg (61 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and rookie tackle Haloti Ngata (31 tackles, 1 sack). The trio is a big reason why Baltimore is ranked No. 1 overall in team defense, although the unit will face a challenging test from Indy's top-ranked offense. Ryan's Ravens have allowed 201 points, lowest in the league this year and only 36 more than the team's record-setting defense of 2000. Baltimore's defense also permitted just 264.1 yards per game, gave up an NFL-low 236 first downs and also registered 28 interceptions in 2006, thanks to starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister (47 tackles, 6 INT) and Samari Rolle (52 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack). McAlister leads the team in picks and is headed to his third Pro Bowl. Both corners, along with All-Pro free safety Ed Reed (59 tackles, 5 INT) and rookie strong safety Dawan Landry (69 tackles, 5 INT, 3 sacks), will be responsible for shutting down both Harrison and Wayne on Saturday.

Dungy beat the Chiefs at their own game last week and ran Addai all over their defense. Addai (1,081 rushing yards, 7 TD) is no Larry Johnson, but his numbers were quite similar to a typical LJ game, as he recorded 122 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Addai, who led all NFL rookies in rushing and yards per carry, will have a tough task penetrating Baltimore's second-ranked rushing defense. When he needs a breather, veteran back Dominic Rhodes (641 rushing yards, 5 TD) will get the call. Rhodes, who was the starter for most of the 2006 season, ran for 42 yards on 16 carries in his only career appearance against the Ravens. The two backs have helped Indianapolis fans forget about departed crowd favorite Edgerrin James and given the Colts the league's 18th-ranked rushing offense (110.1 ypg).

Ryan will have his front line ready for Addai, but team leader Ray Lewis will make sure the linebackers hit anything that moves. Lewis and some of his teammates have been vocal during the week on how they intend to punish Addai and any other player who ends up beyond the first line of defense. Lewis (105 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT) and emerging outside linebacker Bart Scott (103 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 INTs) will also pressure Manning all day. Manning has a quick release and is very poised in the pocket, making the job more difficult for Baltimore, which finished second in the NFL with 60 sacks. Scott and Lewis were tops on the team in tackles, while outside linebacker Adalius Thomas (83 tackles, 11 sacks, 1 INT) and end Terrell Suggs (64 tackles, 9.5 sacks) were among the team leaders in sacks. Thomas is headed to the Pro Bowl, while the versatile Suggs adds to a corps which can cover, blitz and shed blockers with more ease than most athletes in the NFL. Thomas is hampered with an ankle problem, but is listed as probable. Addai must make sure he wears extra protection, because any one of the Baltimore linebackers can take him out of the game with a crushing hit.

RAVENS OFFENSE VS. COLTS DEFENSE

McNair (3.050 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT), who shared the 2003 Most Valuable Player Award with Manning, led the Ravens to the playoffs in his first season with the team and helped the Ravens win a franchise-best 13 regular-season games with his grit and hard work. In 1999, McNair led the Tennessee Titans to a 19-16 win over Indianapolis in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in the RCA Dome. The veteran quarterback also guided the team to wins in nine of its last 10 games and owns a 92.9 rating with 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions over that span. He has thrown a touchdown pass in four straight playoff games and will most likely add to that total on Saturday. Mark Clayton (67 receptions, 939 yards, 5 TD) emerged as Baltimore's go-to receiver after the midway point of the season, while Todd Heap (73 receptions, 765 yards, 6 TD) is one of the most sure-handed tight ends in the league. Veteran Derrick Mason (68 receptions, 750 yards, 2 TD), Heap and Clayton are just one of two trios in the NFL to finish with 65 receptions apiece. If the Colts focus too much attention on stopping Lewis, McNair will have the space to find his open receivers. But he must be aware that Indy owns the second-best pass defense in the NFL. McNair was sacked only 14 times during the regular season and is expected to have All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden back in the lineup. Ogden, a future Hall of Famer, missed the regular-season finale against Buffalo with turf toe and is listed as questionable.

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (29 tackles, 5.5 sacks) faces the daunting task of going up against Ogden. Last season's sack master, Freeney's numbers have been down this season because of shoulder and leg problems, but he flashed his usual Pro Bowl form in the Kansas City win. Freeney had three tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble to lead the often-criticized Colts' defense. Robert Mathis (65 tackles, 9.5 sacks) plays on the opposite end of Freeney and will also be in hot pursuit of McNair, who still has the ability to escape the rush. McNair will air it out against the second-best pass defense in the NFL, although Colts safety Bob Sanders (27 tackles, 1 INT) is questionable with a knee problem that has hampered him all season. If Sanders plays on Saturday, it will mark the first time since September he has competed in consecutive games. Starting cornerback Nick Harper (75 tackles, 3 INT) is nursing a sore ankle but should is expected to be ready to take on Heap, Mason and Clayton.

Lewis (1,132 rushing yards, 9 TD) will try to expose the Colts' run defense and accomplish what the Chiefs' Johnson couldn't last week. Indy ranked last against the run during the regular season, having allowed an average of 173 yards a game. Lewis only had a pair of 100-yard rushing games this season, however, and didn't have such a great performance in his last meeting against Indy in 2005. He ran for 48 yards on 16 carries in the 24-7 loss. Baltimore is 3-0 in postseason play when Lewis cracks the century mark. Dungy will most likely devise a similar game plan from a week ago to stop the powerful back. Billick is a smart man, however, and is not afraid to attack Baltimore's suspect front seven with his top runner. He will use Lewis enough to keep Manning and the Colts' high-powered offense off the field. Veteran backup Mike Anderson (183 rushing yards, 1 TD) will see limited time, but the former Denver Bronco is very familiar with a postseason atmosphere.

Indianapolis didn't look like the NFL's worst run defense last Saturday, as the unit held Johnson to only 32 yards on 13 touches. Defensive tackles Raheem Brock (47 tackles, 3 sacks) and Anthony McFarland (41 tackles, 2.5 sacks), who combined for seven stops against Kansas City, will get a first- hand look Lewis, who brings just as much grit, weight and muscle to the football field as Johnson. If Lewis has his way with the Indianapolis defense, Manning and the offense will be kept off the field, making it even more difficult for the Colts to escape with a win on the road. Behind the Colts' front line of defense are talented linebackers Cato June (142 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT), Gary Brackett (120 tackles) and Rob Morris (55 tackles). June led the team in tackles and recorded seven last weekend.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (25-28 FG) kicked three field goals last week to help boot the Chiefs from the RCA Dome. The veteran and playoff-tested Vinatieri is a perfect 12-for-12 in field goal attempts at home, but finished 13-of-16 on the road this season. He was the sixth-most accurate kicker in the 2006 regular season and has made 29 field goals in the playoffs, the second- most in NFL history behind Gary Anderson. Punter Hunter Smith (44.4 avg.) only had to punt twice against the Chiefs, booming a pair of balls for a 38 yard average. He even pinned one punt inside the 20-yard line. Field position will be a huge factor on Saturday because of the two solid offenses, and Colts' return man Terrence Wilkins (9.2 punt return avg., 1 TD, 24.5 kick return avg.) is a threat to break one. Wilkins fielded three punts for 28 yards, including a pair of fair catches, last week.

Ravens veteran kicker Matt Stover (28-30 FG) made 17 of his 18 field goals at home this season, and could be trying a few more if the game turns into a defensive battle. Rookie punter Sam Koch, who finished tied for second in the NFL with 12 punts inside the 10-yard line, punted 86 times for an average of 43 yards a boot. The return game suffered a big blow when B.J. Sams (10.6 punt return avg., 25.7 kick return avg.) went down in Week 13 against Cincinnati with a broken leg. Cory Ross (2.8 punt return avg., 21.6 kick return avg.) then took over as Baltimore's return man and has done an admirable job.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It has been a while since the NFL's top-ranked offense took on the league's best defense in the divisional round of the conference playoffs. Manning has a lot to prove on Saturday, as he is just 1-4 as a starter on the road in the postseason. In order to achieve Super Bowl immortality, Manning and the Colts must establish the run game early before Baltimore forces them to be one- dimensional. Addai cracked the century mark against Kansas City and kept Indy in the game after Manning was intercepted three times. There will be no chance for an Indianapolis win this week if Manning even turns the ball over twice, however. Addai hasn't faced the Ravens yet, which could be an advantage, but the Baltimore linebackers will certainly do their best to stop the first-year phenom. McNair willed his team to a pair of come-from-behind regular-season wins during his first stint in Baltimore and has put up decent numbers throughout his career against the Colts. Despite the fact both head coaches are familiar with each other, having previously worked together in Minnesota, the Colts have the advantage and momentum on their side. Manning is more determined than ever to reach the Super Bowl this year, and doesn't have kicker Mike Vanderjagt to blame if things go wrong.

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