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NFL Playoffs Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens

USATSI_8127041_154224518_lowresWhen Week 17 of the regular season ended, the biggest storyline coming into this match up was about Andrew Luck who will become the first number one overall draft pick to start a game at quarterback in the playoffs. Luck set a rookie record for passing yards in a single season and was just three touchdowns shy of tying Peyton Manning’s rookie mark of touchdown passes on the season. While many expected Luck to be good, no one expected him to lead the Colts, who were just 2-14 in the previous season, to the playoffs in his first year.

However, the narrative shifted to the biggest threat to Luck’s success in his first post season game — Ray Lewis — who announced that he would be retiring after the end of this season. Lewis is arguably the best defensive player of the last decade and a half, and is easily the best linebacker over that time. Today, if Lewis is serious about retiring, will be the last football game he plays in Baltimore, and will do everything in his power to make sure that his last in Baltimore is a win.

And how exactly will he do that? Just like he always has in the post season. Lewis has averaged nearly 11 tackles over the course of his 18 career post season games. He also has six forced fumbles, two interceptions, two sacks and a touchdown. His counterpart in the secondary, Ed Reed, has been equally as great in the post season. In 11 games, Reed has eight interceptions, which is most among active players and only one pick away from the NFL record.

Considering these numbers, Luck is going to have to be extremely careful with the football if the Colts want to walk away from Baltimore with a win. During the regular season, Luck threw 18 interceptions, which was third in the NFL behind Tony Romo and Drew Brees — and 13 of those interceptions came on the road. Luck has been trending upward in this department, however, as he did not turn the ball over in the Colts final three games of the regular season.

On the other side of the football, the Colts will be tasked with trying to slow down Ray Rice. The Colts just gave up over 300 yards on the ground two weeks ago against the Chiefs, and will go head-to-head against an offense that is at its best when Ray Rice gets going. And when Rice isn’t on the field, Bernard Pierce has been very effective both running the ball and in the passing game (although his ability to pass protect has been awfully suspect this season).

This will be the most emotional game of the wild card round considering Lewis’ retirement announcement and the fact that the Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano returned last week after missing almost all of the regular season being treated for Leukemia. And as if this Colts season hasn’t been emotional enough, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who took over head coaching duties with Pagano out, has been hospitalized for an illness that has not been made public.

For more on today’s match up, check out Serena Winters’ pre-game report:

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Phillip Barnett is the Senior NFL Editor at Sports City and is currently suffering through a decade long (and counting) playoff drought from the Oakland Raiders.

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