Next Game: Vs. Houston Texans (Sunday 1pm CBS)
Line: Baltimore -7.5 Over/Under 36
If there is a team destined to win the Super Bowl this season, it is the Baltimore Ravens. Not because they had the best regular season and not because they are the hottest team heading into the post season, but the irony surrounding this team heading into the playoffs is too great.
The game is being played in Indianapolis this year, and in case many of you forgot, that blue horse shoe that adorns the white helmet of the host team this year, was once a proud symbol in the city of Baltimore.
Jim Irsay, the eccentric owner of the Indianapolis Colts, and whose father Robert Irsay, moved the Baltimore Colts to Indy in the middle of the night recently tweeted, “I'd love 2c Steve B get the Trophy and Baltimore n Indy...got tons of friends there n it's only fitting with my good friend R Berry n tow!”
R Berry is Raymond Berry, who will be handing out the Lombardi trophy to this year’s winner on the confetti laden podium in the middle of Lucas Oil Stadium was legendary Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas’ favorite target when they played at the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum known as Memorial Stadium located on 33rd St. in East Baltimore.
Unitas to Berry was as common as Montana to Rice, or Manning to Harrison. Coincidentally the last duo supplanted them as the top QB and receiver tandem in the Colts record books way back in 2002. Ravens fans still love the Baltimore Colts (I do), hell, my father is still an Indy Colts fan first, but make no mistake, there has been plenty of talk about watching Ravens Owner Steven Bisciotti Hoist the Lombardi trophy in the land where Baltimore’s’ former now plays.
Even if the players could care less, they have nothing to do with Karma, and whether they realize it or not, they have caught more breaks, and found more luck than any Ravens team in franchise history this season.
The Ravens are hosting a playoff game for the first time since their offense failed to show up during their 2007 Divisional round loss to you guessed it, the Indianapolis Colts. Even though they swept them during the regular season, this is the first post season that the Ravens and Steelers made the journey together without facing each other at some point. By the way, Baltimore is 0-3 to their hated division rivals in the playoffs, and playing the Steelers for a third time would have been tempting this little fate thing they seem to have going.
Both teams playing in Sunday’s playoff game in Baltimore caught a huge break this year when Peyton Manning missed the entire season with an injury. The Texans for obvious reasons but the Ravens are 0-2 all-time vs. the Colts in the playoffs, and have been eliminated by either the Steelers or Colts in their last four trips to the post season. The Ravens are 0-5 all-time vs. both teams in the post season, and dominated the Patriots 33-14 at Foxborough back in 2010.
The Ravens are the only NFL team to reach the playoffs the past four seasons, setting a Baltimore football record. Not even the Unitas led Colts teams accomplished such a feat. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that fate has the Ravens and Broncos on a crash course for the AFC Championship. I’m on one knee with my fist to my forehead praying for it.
Strength: Home Field and defense
The Ravens continued their decade long dominance on defense in 2011. For the fourth-straight year Baltimore finished third in the league in fewest points allowed with 16.6 per game. In doing so, they tied an NFL record for consecutive seasons of being in the top three for points allowed.
The Ravens dominant “D” ranked third in the league in both yards allowed (288.9 ypg) and sacks (48, behind the Vikings and Eagles, with 50 each). No defense was better in the red zone as Baltimore finished first in red zone defense (38.1 TD percentage), as well as containing opposing QB’s. Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and company dominated opposing quarterbacks this season. Baltimore held the opponent’s QB to a 68.8 rating, which was first in the NFL. The Ravens also allowed the fewest offensive TDs allowed (21) and fewest TD passes with 11.
Baltimore was second in rush defense (92.6 ypg) and third down defense (32.1%) and held nine of their 16 regular season opponents to 17 or fewer points.
If you notice there was no mention of Ray Lewis. While Lewis is still one of the best in the NFL patrolling the middle on first and second down, he has become a liability in coverage on third and long. Despite leading the team in tackles this season, Lewis did not have his best season, and the Ravens defense seem to play their best stretch of the season as the future hall of fame middle linebacker missed four games with a toe injury. In Lewis’ place, OLB Terrell Suggs excelled as the leader on defense, and had a season worthy of winning the defensive player of year.
During the Harbaugh Bowl on Thanksgiving night without Lewis, the Ravens dominated the San Francisco 49ers, and tied a franchise record by sacking QB Alex Smith nine times.
T-Sizzle produced a career-high 14 sacks and a team-record and NFL-high seven forced fumbles this season. The defense is sending four starters to the Pro Bowl, but if you ask Suggs, Lewis, Ed Reed and DT Haloti Ngata, they would much rather be preparing to head to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl instead of the beaches in Hawaii.
Many analysts believe that whichever team can establish its superstar running back will win the game. The numbers favor the Ravens as Baltimore’s rush defense is almost perfect during the post season with Ray Lewis in the middle over the year’s. Baltimore has never allowed a 100-yard rusher in the playoffs, holding opposing RBs under the century mark in 15 straight contests. That mark ranks as the NFL’s third-longest active streak.
M&T Bank Stadium may not have the history of Lambeau Field, but the Ravens are as good as Green Bay and almost every other team for that matter since John Harbaugh took over back in 2008. For the first time in team history, the Ravens went undefeated at home and became just one of three NFL teams (GB and NO) to accomplish the feat in 2011. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 18 of their last 19 home games and are 27-5 in games played in Baltimore. That ranks second to the New England Patriots during that span.
During the Ravens eight wins at home this season, their average margin of victory was 12.5 points. Ironically, their average margins of victory during their four road wins was 13.75 points, but if you take out the 30 point win St. Louis, that number drops significantly to 8.3 points.
Baltimore’s 10-game home winning streak ranks as the longest in team history and is the NFL’s second-longest active streak (GB – 13)
That is not a misprint, and it isn’t supposed to say Joe Flacco. The Ravens offense and their quarterback are not a weakness at M&T Bank Stadium. In fact, dating back to November-29, 2009, QB Joe Flacco has helped lead the Ravens to an 18-1 home record. In those 19 contests, he has compiled 29 TDs and just 8 INTs for a 97.6 passer rating. For his career, Flacco is 27-5 all time at home with a 90 passer rating.
Although Flacco’s numbers were down considerably both at home and on the road this season, he guided the purple birds to a franchise first undefeated season in the Charm city, and sweep of the AFC North, which was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs. Those numbers are certainly prof enough that the Ravens offense is in good hands at home.
Aside from defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the Baltimore fans and media have always had a week-to-week relationship with head coach John Harbaugh, and his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron.
Since taking over for Brian Billick in 2008, Harbaugh has helped guide the Ravens to 44 regular season wins during this span, ranking fourth most in the NFL. The former special team’s coordinator of the Philadelphia eagles has also compiled a 4-3 playoff record and is the first coach in NFL history to take over a sub.-500 team and then win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons.
Like his quarterback, Cameron has been criticized often this season. Flacco's criticisms are from what is perceived to be his inconsistent play and Cameron for his play calling. However, in 2011, Flacco produced his third-straight 3,500-yard/20-touchdown passing season, while RB Ray Rice led the NFL with 2,068 yards from scrimmage.
Many believe the Ravens should be 14-2, and blame Cameron for losses in Jacksonville and Seattle this season. Baltimore has been a sure thing when Rice touches the football at least 23 times. Baltimore is 11-0 when the fourth year back from Rutgers has at least 18 carries, and 23 total touches in a game this season. During those losses, Rice touched the ball just 13 times in each game, gaining a combined 144-total yards from scrimmage.
Many Ravens fans fear that Cameron and Harbaugh will try to place Sunday’s game on the arm of Joe Flacco. Hopefully Cameron will stick with what worked during the Ravens 29-14 week six win over the Texans. The Ravens offense produced big time numbers against a big time ranked defense, all set up by the running game.
Rice rushed for over 100, yards, Flacco threw for over 300, and WR Anquan Boldin had over 100 receiving yards. A repeat like that and the Ravens are off to the AFC Championship game. If Cameron feels the need to get cute, and has a flashback to when he thought his QB was an elite NFL passer, then things could get scary, or maybe not, and that is the mystery of Baltimore’s weakness. The potential unknown of the Ravens offense caused by poor play calling.
The Ravens are 4-0 under Harbaugh following a bye week, and here comes the irony again; they beat the Texans back in week six following this year’s bye.
In case you need to go back and read, I’ll wait, the Ravens are destined to play in Indy, and with an undefeated record at home, and the Texans starting an injured third string rookie QB, this one could get ugly early. Remember, the Texans lost their last three games of the season, and the Raven chew up and spit out young QB’s. Just ask Andy Dalton, Colt McCoy, and Mark Sanchez to name a few.
If you’re sick of the karma mentioned numerous times in this slide then consider the following. No team has ever won a Super Bowl that finished outside of the top 25 in offense; goodbye San Francisco. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with a defense ranked lower than 25; it was nice knowing you Green Bay, New England and New York.
No team has ever won two playoff games that was 8-8 or worse; sorry Tebow lovers. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback, much less the third string quarterback; you were a feel good story Houston.
Finally, that leaves a Saints-Ravens Super Bowl, and not to be outdone, no team with fewer than 20 takeaways during the regular season has ever won the big game; say hello to your Super Bowl 46 winners, the Baltimore Ravens.