When Jim Irsay shows up looking like an Orange County frat boy while at the helm of the Mayflower for a playoff game, you know it’s on.

Ahhh yes, and we have our first Mayflower reference of the week. Actually, it’s probably at least the seventh. Although we’ll be reminded of that embedded storyline which is on the lowest possible branch of the story tree relentlessly this weekend, there’s now an entire generation of football fans who weren’t alive to remember the Baltimore Colts. Johnny U forever.

Don’t feel shame if you’re not up on story of the franchise Jim’s father stole in the middle of the night. Start that education by watching the ESPN 30 for 30 doc, The Band That Wouldn’t Die. It’s a pretty cool side story.

But what of modern day? Well, these two teams have met twice in the playoffs recently, with the Colts winning both games (2006 and 2010). That’s when a dude named Peyton was around, though. The Colts are Andrew Luck’s team now, meaning Sunday we’ll see a quarterback who will get consideration for offensive rookie of the year. He’ll oppose a sometimes brilliant, but more often inconsistent soon-to-be free agent counterpart. And we’ll also watch possibly the last game for one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history, whose unmatched on-field intensity has soiled many pairs of pants.

We’ll let the pundit lips spin their neatly-woven webs of poetic waxing with the abundance of talking points. Other such matters may actually determine the outcome of this game.

The surface-y digits show pretty much what you’d expect. The Ravens may have regressed defensively this year and fallen from their usual elite status, especially since the loss of Lardarius Webb, and after Ray Lewis was out for much of the regular season. But even an aging Ravens defense is infinitely better than the creaky Colts D.

Colts offense Ravens defense
Total yards P/Game 362.4 (10th) 350.9 (17th)
Passing yards P/Game 258.0 (7th) 228.1 (17th)
Rushing yards P/Game 104.4 (22nd) 122.8 (20th)
Colts defense Ravens offense
Total yards P/Game 374.2 (26th) 352.5 (16th)
Passing yards P/Game 236.8 (21st) 233.7 (15th)
Rushing yards P/Game 137.5 (29th) 118.8 (11th)

Yeah, that’s the bottom or near it at three core defensive metrics for the Colts, so it’s a little baffling that they still finished 11-5. So hey Andrew Luck, you got this one then, right?

Thoughts and Rants

  • Any statistical breakdown involving the Colts’ offense has to begin with an oft-cited Luck stat. The rookie finished tied for second in interceptions with 18, the same number thrown by Mark Sanchez (*shudders*). Of those picks, 13 of them have come on the road, where each of his three-interception games took place.
  • Taking that further, 10 of his picks have also come on deep balls, and passes that traveled 15 or more yards down the field. That could quickly lead to Luck showing his tackling skills against a ball-hawking defense. Hi, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.
  • This is when we arrive at another daunting set of numbers that favor Baltimore. With Luck’s interceptions weighing heavily, the Colts have a giveaway/takeaway differential of -12, whereas the Ravens were third in the AFC at +9.
  • One way to relieve some pressure deep would be with an effective run game to draw the Ravens’ safeties up. About that: Vick Ballard is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. Ray Lewis isn’t quite the same screaming beast who just crushes dudes, but he’ll still be a formidable presence in his return, and he’ll limit Indy’s running further.
  • On the outside when either team has the ball, speed is in abundance. Firstly, for the Colts that’s powered by T.Y. Hilton, he of the feasting, or famining. Hilton had five +100 yard games and five catches for 40 yards or more. But he also had eight games with less than 35 yards.
  • His equal on the Ravens is Torrey Smith. There were three games when he had only one reception (excluding Week 17 when he was pretty much benched). But while his overall season weekly receiving average hovered at just 53.4, he still had five double-digit target games, with 127 yards in Week 3, and 144 in Week 12. Between Smith and Hilton, the home runs will be either hit, or whiffed on.
  • When a clutch single is needed, the Colts have the advantage. They converted 42.8 percent of their third downs throughout the regular season, behind only New England and Denver in the AFC. Baltimore converted 36.9.
  • Clearly Ray Rice will be the ultimate difference maker, as he so often is for Baltimore. Rice faced two defenses ranked 25th or worse against the run this year (Chiefs and Giants), and in those games he finished with 274 total yards at a pace of 5.7 yards per touch (41 carries, seven catches).
  • Rice’s success will hinge on the play of Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer, and more generally which run defense shows up. Although they’ve been gashed overall, two very opposite extremes emerged to end the season when Indy was asked to defend against the run.
  • In Week 16, the Colts allowed two +100 yard rushers against Kansas City. Jamaal Charles had his third run of 80 or more yards on the season while finishing with 226 rushing yards overall, and Peyton Hillis had 101 yards, a season high. It was a significant outlier for Hillis, whose season per game rushing average was just 23.8 yards.
  • But then last week Houston’s Arian Foster and Ben Tate were held to only 103 yards, and the Texans’ offense was averaging 132.7 rushing yards.