Dolphins-Ravens: AFC Wild-Card Preview

Samuel Sica@@SicatheKidAnalyst IDecember 31, 2008

The playoffs are finally amongst us as we enter the New Year, with eight teams battling to advance into the next round. The most interesting game, in my opinion, will be the Baltimore Ravens against the Miami Dolphins.

Both teams ended up with records at 11-5, going 4-2 in division play. Both teams are also coming off poor performances last season, finishing last in their respected divisions.

This season turned out to be great for both the Ravens and Dolphins in more ways than one. Last season, the Dolphins had the worst record in the NFL, going 1-15 with their lone win coming against the Ravens. Miami made some key offseason moves that have proved to be the difference as they have gone from worst to first in only a year’s time.

The Dolphins are the AFC East Champions and have earned the third seed in the playoffs. The Dolphins' last playoff game was against no other than the Ravens in 2001. The Dolphins ended up losing that playoff game at home by a score of 20-3.

The Ravens, on the other hand, have also made great strives since last season. Baltimore earned the sixth and final playoff spot after finishing second in the AFC North only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens, much like the Dolphins, have turned many heads this season with their many accomplishments. Baltimore took a chance on a rookie quarterback by the name of Joe Flacco out of Delaware to lead them this season along with their first year head coach in John Harbaugh.

Flacco has exceeded expectations this season by throwing for 2,971 yards with 14 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Flacco has definitely proven that he has what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback in the near future.

Baltimore also has a very dynamic rushing attack with Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee. McClain has rushed for 902 yards with 10 touchdowns while McGahee has rushed for 671 yards with seven touchdowns. The Ravens are led in receiving by Derrick Mason who has 80 receptions for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns along with Mark Clayton who has 41 receptions for 695 yards with three touchdowns.

The key to Baltimore’s success though lies in their defense. The Ravens' defense once again ranks in the top two or three in all categories making them tough all a round. Baltimore’s defense is led by Ed Reed who leads the team in interceptions with nine and Terrell Suggs who leads the team in sacks with eight.

The Dolphins' defense is no slouch either, led by Joey Porter, who leads the team in sacks with 18, out of Miami’s 40 total sacks. They are also led by Andre’ Goodman, who leads the team with five interceptions out of Miami’s 18 total interceptions.

Miami’s real strength though is in their ability to run the ball effectively. When Miami is running the ball well, it sets up for Chad Pennington and the passing game.

Pennington is one of the feel-good stories of the year after he was released from the New York Jets shortly before the season started. Miami, who has been lost over the years at the quarterback position, took a chance on Pennington, who has the skills and experience to get the job done but lacks the arm strength to throw the deep ball with effectiveness.

Pennington has overcome a lot this season after being dumped by the Jets for Brett Favre. But it was Pennington who had the last laugh in New York as he came back to town to defeat his old team in the last week of the season to put Miami back in the playoffs as the AFC East Champions.

Pennington has had an outstanding season throwing for 3,653 yards with 19 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. He also has a completion percentage of 67.4 making him on of the most accurate passers in the league.

Miami is also led by their running attack made up of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Brown has rushed for 916 yards with 10 touchdowns while Williams has rushed for 659 yards with four touchdowns to his credit.

The Dolphins' receiving corps is also very well balanced, with Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, and Anthony Fasano. Ginn leads the team in receptions with 56 as well as yardage with 790. Just behind Ginn were Camarillo who had 55 receptions for 613 yards along with Bess who had 54 receptions for 554 yards.

Leading the team in receiving touchdowns is Anthony Fasano, who has seven to his credit, along with 34 receptions for 454 yards. As you can see, Miami spreads the ball evenly throughout which makes them a threat on every play.

I believe that Miami will come out ready to play on their home field in front of their home crowd and take it to Baltimore. My prediction is that Miami will win the game by a score of 24-16.

Do not forget that these two teams already played each other during the regular season, with Baltimore victorious over Miami by a score of 27-13.

The Ravens managed to hold the Dolphins rushing attack to just 71 total yards in that game which essentially dismantled Miami’s whole game plan. The key play in the game was off a defensive score as Terrell Suggs picked off Pennington and ran it back for a touchdown.

Miami and Baltimore are two completely different teams than they were back in Week Seven, so I expect both teams to play their hearts out and leave everything on the field. My gut feeling though is that Miami will prevail on the back of Pennington and their rushing attack.