Ravens look to improve their playoff chances when they host the struggling Colts on Saturday
The Indianapolis Colts will travel to their old stomping grounds in Week 16 to take on the Baltimore Ravens. In a series that dates back to 1996, the Colts are 10-4 overall against the team that would ultimately replace them in Baltimore. However, the Colts haven’t been quite as fortunate playing in their former home city in recent years. The Ravens have won each of the last two meetings against the Colts in Baltimore.
John Harbaugh’s Ravens will look to make it three wins in a row against the Colts inside M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. If successful, they will be one step closer to locking down a spot in the postseason. The 8-6 Ravens are currently tied with the Titans and Bills in a three-team race for the final two AFC Wild Card spots, with the 7-7 Chargers still alive as well.
The good news is that the Ravens control their own destiny, assuring a spot in the playoffs with victories over the Colts and Bengals to close out the season. Even better, Baltimore seems to have plenty of momentum on tap, winning four of its last five contests.
Chuck Pagano’s Colts will do their best to help spoil the Ravens’ postseason plans. Of course, that won’t be easy for a three-win team that has lost eight of its last nine games. On the bright side, Indianapolis has remained somewhat competitive during its most recent skid, losing three of its last five contests by just six points or fewer.
Indianapolis at Baltimore
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 23 at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Baltimore -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The turnover battle
The Colts rank near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. But one area in which they have excelled this season is ball security. In fact, Indianapolis has committed the fourth-fewest turnovers of any team in the NFL with just 15. That is a trend that the Colts will need to continue Saturday if they are going to have any chance of pulling the upset.
That’s because the Ravens' big-play defense is the most opportunistic one in the NFL. Led by Pro Bowlers Eric Weddle (six interceptions), Terrell Suggs (four forced fumbles) and C.J. Mosley (three FF, three fumble recoveries, two INTs), no team has more takeaways than the Ravens' 33. They also lead the league in turnover margin at plus-17. In their last five games alone, Baltimore has forced 15 turnovers, while committing just two.
It will be critical for the Ravens to win the turnover battle against a Colts team that rarely commits them. Baltimore is 7-1 on the season in games in which it forces two or more turnovers. The Ravens are just 1-5 in games in which they do not.
2. Will the Colts’ offensive line hold up?
It’s hard to believe that the Colts have committed as few turnovers as they have this season, especially given the play of their offensive line. It was an area that was supposed to be much improved heading into the year, but that has not been the case. Some say it’s the result of quarterback Jacoby Brissett (above, right) hanging on to the football too long. Others blame the skill position players for not helping Brissett by getting open. And some believe the offensive line is just plain bad. It’s likely a combination of all the above, and key injuries haven’t helped matters. But the bottom line is that Indianapolis' offensive line has surrendered 53 sacks this season, the most in the NFL.
That could be a problem against the Ravens, who rank seventh with 38 sacks. One reason the Ravens make so many big plays on defense is their ability to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks and force mistakes. That will once again be the agenda on Saturday with Suggs (11 sacks) and Matt Judon (seven) leading the charge. Will a suspect Colts offensive line be up for the challenge?
3. Ravens’ offense on the rise
Baltimore has certainly had struggles on offense at times this season, but that has not been the case of late. Over the last three weeks, the Ravens are averaging 36 points and 386 yards per game. A big reason for that recent surge is the play of quarterback Joe Flacco, who finally looks healthy after offseason back surgery. Flacco has accounted for six touchdowns (including one rushing) in his last three games, while completing more than 60 percent of his passes for an average of 275 passing yards per game. He also has just one interception during that span. Flacco should be able to continue his recent run of success against a beat-up Colts secondary that will be mostly comprised of first- and second-year players on Saturday. Indianapolis ranks 30th in the NFL against the pass (257.1 ypg), and has nearly as many sacks (23) as touchdown passes allowed (21).
Baltimore's ground attack should be able to find plenty of running room against this defense as well. The Colts rank 29th in the (124.4 ypg) against the run, and have surrendered 440 rushing yards over their last two contests alone. They also will be without their best run defender and leading tackler, linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who was lost for the season last week with a knee injury. The Ravens' three-headed backfield monster of Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Danny Woodhead will look to take full advantage of a compromised run defense.
The Colts have overachieved in all three of their matchups against opponents from the AFC North this season. They beat the Browns by three points, lost to the Bengals by one, and gave the Steelers all they could handle in an eventual three-point loss. And the one thing that leads me to believe that they might be able to do it again this week is their ability to limit turnovers, which counters well against the strength of the Ravens’ defense.
Regardless, logic usually prevails, and logic says that this matchup has blowout written all over it. Even if the Colts don’t turn the ball over, they will still have a difficult time putting points on the scoreboard. It’s also hard to envision a beat-up defense putting up much of a fight against a Ravens offense that has been hitting on all cylinders of late. Baltimore further benefits from home-field advantage and the sense of urgency that comes with needing a win to stay in the thick of the wild-card race in the AFC.
Prediction: Ravens 30, Colts 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.