December 30, 2012
The Ravens may have considered facing the Colts in the first round their best-case scenario. However, a second-round matchup at Denver could certainly be characterized as the worst-case scenario.
Nobody at the Under Armour Performance Center during the week or in the visiting locker room at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday said publicly that they wanted to play the Colts over the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. That was just the assumption based on how Harbaugh handled yesterday's game and how difficult it is to play a team three times in one season.
It does make sense, though. The Colts have won five of their past six games and are playing with great emotion and purpose with coach Chuck Pagano's return to the sidelines following his battle with leukemia. They are going to be a tough out for anybody. However, as great as Andrew Luck has been, he's still a rookie who will be playing in his first playoff game. And unlike the Bengals, the Colts have a pretty vulnerable defense.
That's a big reason why the sense I got all week was that the Ravens were content in the fourth spot, If things went according to plan, it would mean a first-round home game versus Indianapolis and then a second-round game at top-seeded Houston. That would hardly be an easy road, but I believe it would have been the best one for the Ravens to make a playoff run.
Well, things didn't go according to plan. The Texans continued their late-season swoon yesterday, falling to Indianapolis for their third loss in four games. That knocked them out of the top seed and all the way to third. Now, if the Ravens happen to beat the Colts Sunday and the Texans take care of the Bengals, the Ravens will have to travel to Denver in the second round.
Yes, the same Denver team that beat them on their home field, 34-17, two weeks ago; the same Denver team that hasn't lost a game since Oct. 7 and has one of the game's best all-time quarterbacks, two dangerous wide receivers, two really good outside pass rushers and two high-quality cornerbacks.
The Ravens beat the Patriots earlier this season and have won and played well at Gillette Stadium before. They would have gladly taken another shot at the Texans, who beat them, 43-13, in October, but Houston has seemingly regressed since. The Broncos? I guarantee you that if the Ravens were content with a first-round matchup with Indianapolis, a potential trip to Denver in the second round was the last thing they wanted.