Breaking down the AFC divisional matchup, Ravens at Colts, Saturday, 8 p.m. CBS
1. The Baltimore Ravens remind me of Michael Corleone in 'The Godfather': underestimated in the beginning, changed by strife in the middle, feared in the end. Corleone got his revenge by taking out the crooked cop who punched him, the racketeer who called a hit on his father, and all the heads of the five rival families. Last week, the Ravens dismantled the Patriots after losing to New England in October. After falling to the Colts in November, can the Ravens now turn them into Moe Greene?
"We've played the No. 1 seed on the road before, we understand what it takes to go in there and [win]," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, referring to Baltimore's win over Tennessee in the divisional playoffs last year. "It's going to take a good amount on our part, and we understand that. We thrive in that situation."
With Flacco under center as a rookie last season, the Ravens won two playoff road games (they also defeated Miami in the wild-card round), but the indoor Lucas Oil Stadium could present a more difficult test. "It's going to take going on the road in Indy, a pretty loud place, [and] a place where the fans are going to be into it," Flacco said. "Those guys are going to be ready to play. They're going to come out of the blocks fast. That's what kind of team they are, and we're going to go in there and we're going to have to control that and use it to our advantage. So, I think we have learned how to do that from a certain point."
2. The Colts have beaten the Ravens seven consecutive times, but it doesn't feel that way. Several of the games have been tight, including the Colts' 15-6 playoff victory in Baltimore during the 2006 season and their 17-15 victory on Nov. 22 in Baltimore. "Every time I've played them I think they've been a tough opponent," Peyton Manning said. "They've played a lot of games, they've been in a lot of different situations. And kind of like our team does, they're going to lean on their veteran leaders like [Ed] Reed and [Terrell] Suggs and [Ray] Lewis. I've always thought every possession against the Ravens, it feels like a grind."
The Colts used their bye week not only to get healthy but also to sharpen their skills for what they expect to be a run of three games. They'll also have to start quickly against a Baltimore team that jumped on New England from the opening minutes and never stopped. Head coach Jim Caldwell called the level of the Colts' recent practices "excellent," a notion echoed by Manning. "We've had good work since [Week 17]," Manning said. "We certainly got a number of guys healthy that were injured during that time. We've had good preparation time. If we continue that and keep focusing like we have, I think we'll be ready to go on Saturday."
3. The Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, who is Haitian-American, will be playing Saturday under difficult circumstances. Garcon has several family members who live in Haiti, the Caribbean country that was hit by an earthquake this week, and he has had trouble reaching the country because of downed power lines. From a press conference to Twitter, Garcon has been spreading the word about donations, while also trying to prepare for a football game. "It's tough, but you know you can't do much, so I have to do my best here," Garcon said. "I have to play through them and play for them."
Even before the earthquake, Garcon had been active in aiding the impoverished nation. He started the program "Pierre Garcon Helping Hands Foundation" and had planned an April trip to Haiti to help many of the country's impoverished children. That trip is now in jeopardy. "It's hard, not knowing what's going to happen," he said. "It will be hard [for the country] to come [back] from this. The rebuilding process is going to take forever."
A defensive player who faced Peyton Manning this season talked about the difficult task of trying to shake the four-time NFL MVP:
"It seems like he can [play quarterback] in his sleep. He makes everything go. He is calling plays and the protection at the line of scrimmage. It's tough. You have to throw a couple of things at him that he may have not seen before, get some hits on him, just rattle him a little bit. It's kind of the same thing with Tom Brady. If you just let him sit there and throw the ball, it will be an easy day for him. You have to try to find a way to get him out of his comfort zone. You have to make him as uncomfortable as possible."
The Colts have come too far and accomplished too much to lose this game. Manning won his unprecedented fourth league MVP. Caldwell became the only rookie head coach in history to win his first 14 games in a season, and the second rookie head coach to go 14-2 since the league moved to a 16-game schedule since 1978. I think the criticism the Colts faced for benching starters and losing a chance for a perfect season will be just one more motivator for them. The Ravens will play the Colts tough -- they usually do. But just as Corleone was at the end of the Godfather trilogy -- haunted, confused and angry -- the Ravens will be, too. Colts 20, Ravens 13