But is it really "just another football game?" Do NFL players run faster, tackle harder and give an extra special effort because one team's coach is on the sidelines after winning the fight against leukemia? Does the other team show their love for their legendary linebacker by pushing themselves just a little bit more?
Regardless of the sidelines drama, both teams realize this is a one-and-done game for the losing team and both the players and coaches will make sure they are prepared to pull out all the stops to do whatever they need to in order to live to play another game.
Therefore, once the ball is snapped, all 22 players on the field will do what they have been trying to do all season, which is to put forth their best effort to be part of the reason their team scores more points than the other. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano both have stories that are sure to dominate the headlines, but the game will not be affected by either one.
It will, however, be affected by the guys who either make or do not make the plays on the field and the better team will win. There may be a play or two that you will look back at which was the one that turned the tide or hammered that final nail into the coffin. In the end, the team that deserves to win by their play on the field will be the one that will still be playing this season after the final whistle.
That team is the Baltimore Ravens. Take away all the drama and amazing stories and the Ravens are undoubtedly the better team in this match-up and should come away with the victory in virtually every scenario you choose to look at. The Ravens lost twice this season at M&T Bank Stadium, their first losses at home in more than two years. They haven't lost a playoff game at home since the Colts, led by Peyton Manning, defeated them in January of 2007.
This version of the Colts is nowhere near the juggernaut that the previous version was. Andrew Luck may have been the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and could even be named the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year. However, all that won't make a hill of beans different when facing a very tough team on the road in a pressure-packed situation.
As good as Luck has played in 2012, there is also a huge difference between the Luck who plays at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and the one who threw 13 interceptions on the road this season. Between the return of both Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, as well as the deafening noise of the stadium, Luck will be seeing a defense that is greatly improved from the one that has disappointed Ravens fans most of this season. As bad as Ravens fans might think their defense has been as compared to past years, the 17th ranked Baltimore defense is still way above the 26th ranked Colts defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, QB Joe Flacco should be able to sit back and find his receivers, as the Colts pass rush is one of the weaker ones in the league (NFL Rank: 23rd). Their secondary is not feared and can be beaten short but also deep as they play up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, which has been successful against them all season (NFL Rank: 29th).
If Flacco has time to pass, he can be as deadly as any QB in the league. It is only when he is constantly pressure and the pocket collapses that his decision-making is exposed and the mistakes happen. DO not expect that to happen on Sunday, as the Ravens offensive line should be able to keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis off of his back most of the day.
Ray Rice should touch the ball a lot and be it in the run game, with the complement of rookie Bernard Pierce, as well as the passing game where Rice gets the ball in space, he should be the difference. His presence alone with force the Colts defense to creep up into the box and free Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith for big plays.
This will be a high scoring game, but the Ravens are absolutely the better team and most so-called experts and analysts outside of Indianapolis know it and have been saying it all week. The Ravens will win and will either be heading to play the Denver Broncos of the New England Patriots next weekend.
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