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1. How big a factor will home-field advantage be today at M&T Bank Stadium.
As the Baltimore Ravens (13-3) host the Indianapolis Colts (13-4) today in an AFC divisional playoff, they’ll have ample support from a heavily partisan home crowd intent on seeing their team advance to the AFC title game and exact a touch of revenge for the Colts leaving town nearly a quarter-century ago in those infamous Mayflower vans.
While the Ravens have gone 7-1 at home this season, Indianapolis has lost its past four road games. However, it’s not as if the Colts are completely hapless away from the RCA Dome. They did defeat the New York Giants, New York Jets, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on the road. The noise from a feisty crowd should challenge the Colts’ ability to change things on the fly.
2. Was the bye long enough to help Jonathan Ogden?
The Ravens are relatively healthy with the exception of their All-Pro offensive tackle, who’s hobbled with a hyperextended toe. Ogden needs to be able to move his feet well enough to drive his pads and hands into ultra-fast Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. If he’s too immobile because of his left big toe, then Adam Terry would replace him. Terry didn’t allow a sack with Ogden out for the final two regular-season games, blocking Joey Porter and Aaron Schobel. Freeney is a different case altogether, though.
3. Can the Ravens rattle Peyton Manning?
The Colts’ quarterback has a tendency to break down against aggressive, opportunistic defenses. Manning will have to be patient and not force throws against a defense that led the NFL with 28 interceptions. Baltimore will try to get him out of his rhythm with selective blitz pressure, disguised coverage schemes and waiting until the last possible moment to set its defensive alignment to try to counteract Manning’s usually well-deduced audibles.
4. Will Steve McNair take a few risks?
The passing game has grown very conservative lately, and will need to take a few vertical shots when it’s appropriate against the Colts’ sound pass defense. Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton have the ability to create separation against fast defensive backs.
5. Will Jamal Lewis succeed where Larry Johnson failed?
The Ravens get very few big plays from their running game, but Lewis has the ability to wear down a defense. Since the Coltsâ€™ defensive ends play the pass first and get upfield too quickly, large running lanes tend to open up behind them on the NFLâ€™s last-ranked run defense. The Colts tackled much better last week and showed more aggression with safety Bob Sanders in the lineup, limiting Johnson to just 32 yards on 13 carries. Something will have to give.