The Indianapolis Colts face off against the Baltimore Ravens in what is either the least compelling or most compelling matchup of the first round. After yesterday, we better hope for the latter. Least compelling? Well, we have one team that is among the worst in terms of point differentials in playoff history, a team that did exactly one thing really well–win when the game remained close late. We have another that was a better version of the same thing, a team that was a lot closer to average, but won the close games that earned them the division title.
Most compelling? Where do we begin? Andrew Luck’s first playoff game, setting the table for the all-rookie showdown later today between Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. After yesterday, we could use a dose of these rookies. Chuck Pagano’s return to Baltimore, where he served as defensive coordinator, after returning last week from his cancer treatment. Ray Lewis announcing this would be his last year in the NFL, and (maybe) coming back to play today from the torn triceps that has kept him out most of the year. Bruce Arians, who has coached the team most of the season, is ill and will not be calling plays today. The Colts’ coach last year, Jim Caldwell, will be doing so for Baltimore. Oh, and both of these teams and their propensity to play in some drama filled games.
I have done comparable matchups for each of the other three playoff games (HOU-CIN, GB-MIN, and WAS-SEA), but I’m not going to do them for this one. The reason is pretty simple. While there are no truly identical games and we are looking at just shadows of similarities, this one is truly unique. The reason is the Colts. There most similar team (Seattle in 2006) is not really similar at all–and they hosted a playoff game in the wildcard round. In fact, each of the other 11 playoff teams have at least 50 playoff teams more similar than any to this Colts team.
The Colts have the third worst SRS rating of any playoff team since 1990 (Arizona 1998, Denver 2011) and the two teams with a worse rating won the first game. The Colts are one of only five playoff teams to be below the league average in point difference, offensive yards per play, and defensive yards per play (Seattle 2006, Indianapolis 1996, Chicago 1994, and NY Jets 1991). Two of those four won in the wildcard round.
On the other side, remember that something very important can happen (sarcasm font). Joe Flacco can become the first QB to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. In other news, Joe Flacco is 16th out of 18 quarterbacks in passer rating (min. 50 attempts) since 2008 in the postseason.
The Line: Baltimore by 6.5
The Pick: Indianapolis 22.5, Baltimore 22