The Colts will travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens Sunday at 1 p.m. This is an auspicious draw for the Colts for several reasons:
- The once mighty Baltimore Ravens defense is a shell of its former self. Ray Lewis is trying to come back from a triceps injury, but whether or not he plays is really inconsequential except for giving the Ravens an emotional lift. When Baltimore lost CB Domonique Foxworth, their thin secondary took a huge hit from which they haven't yet recovered. The Ravens rank 17th in total defense and 17th against the pass. Their normally stingy run defense is faring even worse, ranking 20th in the league and surrendering four yards per carry. The Colts will be able to put up some points in Baltimore.
- Who knows the Ravens better than Chuck Pagano, who served as an assistant with Baltimore under John Harbaugh from 2008 through last season. The Ravens employ former Colts' head coach Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator, but the Colts retained virtually nothing from his tenure here in Indianapolis. If Baltimore were coming here, Caldwell could get them a good table at St. Elmo's, but that's about the extent of his value.
- The two teams are heading in opposite directions emotionally, similar to what we saw yesterday against Houston. Indianapolis is sky-high and their confidence is at an all-time high after dominating a Texans team that was playing, for all intents and purposes, for their Super Bowl hopes. They won't be intimidated by the Ravens who finished the season losing four of their final five games. Baltimore may have the edge in experience, but that only matters with regard to confidence. I don't think there's any question who the more confident team is at this point.
As for the rest of the NFL Playoff picture:
- Good riddance to the Dallas Cowboys. Has a team ever been more over-rated than Jerry Jones' bunch? But for their storied history and Jerry's self-promotion skills, the Cowboys would be the epitome of mediocrity.
- Watch out for the Cincinnati Bengals. They finished the season on a 7-1 run and have arguably the league's best defense right now. They've never won a playoff game, but like the Colts, are playing confidently and go to Houston to meet a Texans team in disarray. If they win on Saturday, they could spoil a divisional round matchup of the Colts against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
- Speaking of Denver, the Broncos have won 11 in a row since opening 2-3, but only two of those wins (at Cincinnati and at Baltimore) came against teams that even sniffed the playoffs. Is Peyton Manning the one who will take Denver to the promised land, or will Peyton have yet another of his post-season melt-downs against a team with a talented defense?
- The NFC playoffs are going to be entertaining all the way through. This weekend we get a rematch of Adrian Peterson against the Green Bay Packers and a battle of electrifying rookie quarterbacks when Seattle travels to Washington. That guarantees that some marquee players are going to be heading to San Francisco and Atlanta for the divisional round.
Some early thoughts on the "Black Monday" firings around the NFL:
I wonder how much the Colts' success had in some of the firings. You think owners watching Jim Irsay reassemble his franchise in a year after going 2-14 felt very patient with their own failing coaches and GMs. I wonder if this conversation took place:
Owner: I don't want excuses. Look what Irsay did in Indy? He let go most of his big name players, hired a rookie GM and head coach and made the playoffs with a bunch of rookies and castoffs.
Owner: You're fired!
- I feel bad for Romeo Crennel in Kansas City. He's one of the league's genuine good guys, but has gotten saddled with two backward franchises in Cleveland and Kansas City. The crime of it all is that somehow Scott Pioli kept his job after handing Crennel that roster.
- I feel bad for Andy Reid, too, but it was time for a split in Philadelphia. Andy needs a new start somewhere in a city where they don't boo Santa Claus.
- I don't feel too bad for Lovie Smith. He had a bad offensive line, but it's not like he went through the injury bug the way the Colts did. He's underachieved in Chicago with an organization that's been willing to go out and get him some talent. Good guy, but didn't get the job done with the Bears.
- I also don't feel bad for Chan Gailey or Norv Turner (assuming he gets axed once everyone wakes up in San Diego). Can't Roger Goodell issue a mandate forbidding either of these guys from ever being a head coach in the league again? Great offensive minds, but not cut out for the head coaching job.
- Somebody would be wise to hire Pat Shurmur, whom the Browns fired today. I get new owner Jimmy Haslem wanting to go his own way, but Shurmur just may turn out to be Bill Belichick redux.