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AFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens

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The NFL’s feel-good story of the 2012 season will collide with what will be the final chapter of a legendary career when the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens take the field for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. On one sideline are the Colts (11-5), who have won five out of their last six games and got Chuck Pagano, their head coach and inspirational leader, back on the sidelines last week. On the other are the Ravens (10-6), who dropped four of their final five to stumble to the finish, but will be riding their own wave of emotion as Ray Lewis, their defensive leader and the heart and soul of this team, gears up for one “last ride.”

When the Indianapolis Colts have the ball:
Indianapolis’ offense ended the regular season ranked 10th in the NFL in yards gained with 362.4 per game and tied for 18th in scoring with 22.3 points per contest. The Colts were 22nd in rushing offense (104.4 ypg) and seventh in passing offense (258.0), as quarterback Andrew Luck set the NFL record for passing yards (4,374) by a rookie quarterback. Although the No. 1 overall pick came three touchdown passes shy of matching predecessor Peyton Manning’s 26 in 1998, he threw 10 fewer interceptions (18 compared to 28) than No. 18 did in his first season and also led his team to the playoffs. The Colts’ reliance on Luck was due somewhat to a running game that managed just 3.8 yards per carry. Running back Vick Ballard has emerged as the lead backfield option, but he’s had just one 100-yard game and has scored two rushing touchdowns. Compare that to Luck, who has five rushing scores with nearly 150 fewer carries than Ballard. Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Manning era, put together another Pro Bowl-caliber season with a team-high 106 receptions (sixth in NFL) and 1,355 yards (seventh), but it’s another rookie, fellow wideout T.Y. Hilton who leads the way with seven touchdown catches and is averaging 17.2 yards per reception. If there are any concerns when it comes to Luck, they are those related to his 54.1 completion percentage, which is the second-lowest among qualified starting quarterbacks, the interceptions (18, tied for third-most), and that he’s been sacked 41 times. In addition to the picks, the Colts have fumbled the ball away nine times.

Consistently ranked among the top defenses in the league, Baltimore’s unit took a step backwards this season. The Ravens finished the regular season 17th in total defense, giving up 350.9 yards per game, and tied for 12th in scoring defense at 21.5 points per game. Statistically speaking, the Ravens fared better against the pass (228.1 ypg, 17th) compared to the run (122.8 ypg, 20th). What’s more, the defense allowed only 15 touchdown passes, which tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. The Ravens were in the middle of the pack when it came to sacks (37) and forced a total of 25 turnovers, including 13 interceptions, during the regular season.