Extra MustardSI On CampusFantasyPhoto GalleriesSwimsuitVideoFanNationSI KidsTNT

Divisional playoffs closer look

The deciding factors in this weekend's four matchups

Posted: Friday January 12, 2007 12:05PM; Updated: Saturday January 13, 2007 11:13AM
Print ThisE-mail ThisFree E-mail AlertsSave ThisMost PopularRSS Aggregators

Indianapolis at Baltimore, Sat., 4:30 p.m. ET

Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas had 11 sacks this season and was named to the All-Pro team.
Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas had 11 sacks this season and was named to the All-Pro team.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

Numbers to know: In their past four road games, the Colts are 0-4 (which represents all four of their losses this season) and have allowed 902 rushing yards, for an average of 225.5 per game. For comparison sake, Baltimore gave up just 1,214 yards of rushing all season to rank second in the league, averaging just 75.9 yards per game.

The angle to pay attention to: The Colts can't turn the ball over and beat the Ravens, so three more interceptions by Peyton Manning will be a death knell for Indy's season. Baltimore thrives on takeaways, and its offense is predicated on the short fields and points created by its defense. If Indy can play turnover free, and make Baltimore's offense earn every one of its points, the Colts' upset chances will soar.

The tidbit: The Colts ranked first in the AFC in offense (379.4 ypg), with the Ravens ranking first in the NFL in defense (264.1). It's the first meeting between a conference's top offense and defense in the divisional round since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990.

The coaching front: For the second week in a row, the Colts' Tony Dungy faces a very familiar face. In case you've forgotten, Dungy and Brian Billick were coordinators together in Minnesota on Dennis Green's staff in the early 1990s. Dungy handled the defense from 1992 to 95, before getting Tampa Bay's head coaching job. Billick started out with tight ends in 1992, then took over as offensive coordinator three games into 1993, a post he continued in until moving to Baltimore as head coach in January 1999.

The buzz: The Colts' stout run defense last week against K.C. is being credited largely to the return to the lineup of hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders, who sets the tone for Indy with his penchant for aggressive run support. But it was the play of the Colts defensive line, especially tackle Anthony McFarland and end Dwight Freeney, that made the biggest difference in holding the Chiefs without a first down for the game's first 41 minutes. Without something approaching a repeat performance from Indy's front four, Sanders' impact might be limited.

The next household name: Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas was previously known as one of the NFL's most versatile players for his ability to play virtually all over the field for Baltimore's defense. But with his 11-sack breakthrough season, and his first selection to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, Thomas has elevated his game just in time to make a killing in free agency. While some think the Ravens may franchise him to keep him off the market, Baltimore's thinking is that Thomas isn't worth the approximate $7 million price tag that such a move would ensure.

The X Factor: OK, this is it. Time for Steve McNair -- playoff-battle tested quarterback -- to show his stuff. Games like these are one of the main reasons why the Ravens went out and got him, so that there's somebody back in the pocket who knows how to avoid the game-deciding mistakes and give Baltimore's defense a chance to lead the way to victory.

Most memorable encounter: The Colts and Ravens faced off in their 2005 season openers on a Sunday night in Baltimore, with Indy dominating 24-7 and coming within 13 seconds of their first shutout since 1997. The Colts' defense was superb, forcing four turnovers, scoring once on a 30-yard Cato June interception return, and generally harassing both of Baltimore's quarterbacks, Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright. It was this game that kick-started all those stories about Indy's "new and improved'' defense. How'd that trend turn out?

My Pick: Flawed as the Colts may be, I can't desert my Super Bowl pick now. Manning gets hot and finds a way to win. Colts 27, Ravens 24


1 of 4