The inspiring story of this season’s Indianapolis Colts has captivated the sports world. It’s not just that the team rebounded from a 2-14 record last season to make the playoffs, or that the Colts did so with a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck. But they have gotten this far after losing their head coach, Chuck Pagano, to nearly three months of cancer treatments.
Pagano returned for the regular-season finale, a home victory over Houston, and now he brings his team back to Baltimore, where last season he was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator.
Yes, he’s beloved by the Colts, but the Ravens run a close second in that department.
“Chuck’s like a dad to me,” Baltimore safety Ed Reed said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “He means a lot to me.”
That sentiment, of course, does nothing to dampen the Ravens’ desire to put an immediate end to the Colts’ fairy-tale season. They’re looking to do some damage to an Indianapolis defense that has surrendered more than 400 yards in each of its last four road games.
But Baltimore also has some serious concerns. The Ravens have dropped four of five games, and their defense finished 17th, Baltimore’s lowest ranking since 2002.
Luck, for one, won’t be seduced by that statistic. He understands the challenge that is ahead.
“They’re a great team,” he said. “Obviously, Coach Pagano knows more about them than I do, so I’ll lean on him. But obviously a historic defense.”
<b>Next stop, Canton</b>
If the struggling Ravens were looking for an additional boost this week, they got one from their future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
After 17 illustrious seasons, Lewis announced this will be his last. The two-time NFL defensive player of the year made the Pro Bowl 13 times and was voted All-Pro seven times. He’s the only player in league history with at least 40 career sacks and 30 interceptions.
Lewis is expected to play Sunday after missing the last 10 games because of a torn right triceps.
“Everything that starts has an end,” said Lewis, 37, who plans to be there to watch his eldest son, Ray III, play for the University of Miami next fall. “For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride.”
Since realignment in 2002, the Colts have been to the playoffs 10 times, the most in the NFL. New England is second with nine postseason berths and Green Bay ranks third with eight.
Baltimore and Seattle are among the teams tied for the fourth-most postseason berths since 2002 with seven.
Teams with the most playoff appearances since 2002 (includes 2012, with this year’s postseason teams in bold):
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, 10<br>
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, 9<br>
GREEN BAY PACKERS, 8<br>
BALTIMORE RAVENS, 7<br>
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, 7<br>
PITTSBURGH STEELERS, 7<br>
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS, 7
Former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, who will be the CBS color analyst for Colts-Ravens: “With Chuck Pagano having been at Baltimore, the big thing is he knows the talent of the players. But with the system, a new coordinator, I don’t think it’s going to be a big factor. On a scale of 1 to 10, with Chuck Pagano having been there, I’m going to give it a 2 in importance, only because he knows the physical talents of the players. That’s it.”
<b>By the numbers</b>
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):
CATEGORY: IND; BAL<br>
POINTS SCORED: 22.3 (18); 24.9 (10)<br>
POINTS ALLOWED: 24.2 (21); 21.5 (12)<br>
PASS OFFENSE: 258.0 (7); 233.7 (15)<br>
RUSH OFFENSE: 104.4 (22); 118.8 (11)<br>
PASS DEFENSE: 246.8 (21); 228.1 (17)<br>
RUSH DEFENSE: 137.5 (29); 122.8 (20)<br>
SACKS: 32 (23)-37 (15)<br>
PENALTIES: 5.9 (8); 7.6 (31) <br>
TURNOVERS: -12 (26); +9 (9)<br>
The Colts are heading into the playoffs on an upswing, whereas the Ravens have been flat for the better part of five weeks. Pagano’s knowledge of the Ravens will be a factor, and a key one that helps his team pull off the narrow upset.
<b>COLTS 20, RAVENS 17</b>