A position-by-position breakdown of the Baltimore-Indianapolis divsional-round matchup on Saturday.
The only heavy lifting Peyton Manning has done in the past few weeks is picking up his fourth MVP award. Being well rested should make him all the more dangerous, but there is the potential for rust. Manning should have better protection than Tom Brady received, and he has more outlet targets to beat the Ravens' blitzing.
They finished dead-last in the league in rushing offense, so that's a pretty discouraging place to start the conversation. The Ravens' fifth-ranked run defense should be up to the task of preventing the Colts from finding new life on the ground. The Colts' best hope here is for rookie Donald Brown to emerge while spelling Joseph Addai.
WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark are capable of shredding most defenses, and before the New England game, it might have been easier to picture them doing so vs. the Ravens. But Baltimore's pass coverage was as strong as ever, and that could mean Manning will need young wideouts Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie to step up.
C Jeff Saturday anchors a group that gave Manning the time and comfort to have another spectacular season, but will never be confused for the more physical, power-oriented line that the Ravens have. The extra-long rest from the early clinching of the No. 1 seed is helping OT Charlie Johnson recover from a nagging toe injury.
DE Dwight Freeney continues to be one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league. He'll likely draw extra blocking attention, which should provide some operating room for DE Robert Mathis, who also is a dangerous rusher. Of course, before the Colts can turn up the heat, they need to stop, or at least contain, the run.
MLB Gary Brackett will have to come up big in order for the Colts to deal with the Ravens' power-oriented ground attack. OLB Clint Session has had plenty of time to rest a sore knee. The quickness of this group should give the Colts a fighting chance to avoid getting burned by many long gains.
CBs Kelvin Hayden, along with a pair of rookies at the position -- Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey -- are solid in coverage. FS Antoine Bethea and SS Melvin Bullitt are playmakers, who should lend plenty to the Colts' run-stopping efforts while also making it difficult for the Ravens to get anything going through the air.
Exceptional depth allows the Colts to not flinch at the fact they won't have one of the all-time great kickers, Adam Vinatieri, for the postseason as he recovers from surgery on his right knee. His replacement, former Raven Matt Stover, is 9-of-11 on field-goal attempts and has made all 33 extra points since taking over in October.
Jim Caldwell did a wonderful job of filling Tony Dungy's big shoes. He led the Colts to a 14-0 run and was part of the highly controversial decision to rest starters through most of the final two games and squander a chance to go 16-0. His impressive rookie year will take a major hit if the Colts lose.
Their game plan is obvious: Jump to a quick lead and force the Ravens out of their ball-control mode. With Manning's arm and an abundance of playmaking receivers, the Colts should be able to do that. If Flacco has to start throwing, the Colts' defense figures to have enough game-changers to force mistakes. Crowd noise should also help.
Joe Flacco's hip contusion and sore quadriceps have rendered him a minimal factor in the Ravens' offense. Besides handing off, he contributed very little to the wild-card victory vs. New England. He'll likely continue in his game-management role vs. the Colts, although that presumes the Ravens will run as effectively as they did last week.
Ray Rice says the playoffs are all about "our will against the next team's will." The Ravens can again be successful with that approach vs. the NFL's 24th-ranked run defense. Rice's speed might not be as effective vs. the Colts' speedy defense as it was vs. the Patriots, but he'll have an impact. So should Willis McGahee.
It's hard to find anything worth noting about this group. Between Flacco's injuries, the struggles of the Ravens' pass-catchers to get open, and the strength of Baltimore's running game, it's fair to say that this team won't likely do much through the air. If it tries to, the Colts' defense is solid enough to minimize the impact.
When this group gears up to run the ball, it's pretty hard to defend. C Matt Birk will lead a drive-blocking push that should have an edge over the Colts' smallish defensive front. The few times the Ravens passed vs. New England, Flacco received good protection. But the Colts have a much better pass rush.
DTs Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg owned the middle vs. the Patriots. They should continue to have success this week, given that the Colts' line is built more for pass protection than run-blocking. The strong work inside gives DE Dwan Edwards the freedom to make plays, such as when he sacked Tom Brady. Getting to Manning will be harder.
After a mostly sluggish season, edge rusher Terrell Suggs came alive in the wild-card round, which isn't good news for Manning. Ray Lewis showed that he's still capable of raising his already high level of play another notch or so in the postseason. Jarret Johnson looks to have overcome injuries that slowed him recently.
Dogged by injuries and criticism, this unit came up with easily its best showing of the season vs. the Patriots. Without Wes Welker, the Pats needed Randy Moss to come up big, but CB Domonique Foxworth took him away. The Ravens will need another great outing from him, along with Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, and Chris Carr, to contend with the Colts.
Billy Cundiff made both field goals he attempted in the wild-card game, and that's the sort of dependability the Ravens weren't sure they could count on before the playoffs. Their return game, which has come on recently, was also strong enough to give the Colts something to think about. Kick coverage is a concern, however.
Second-year coach John Harbaugh has his club one victory away from his second consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Harbaugh excelled at preparing his team to play its best at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots had never lost in the postseason. After outcoaching Bill Belichick, Harbaugh gets to match Xs and Os with a rookie in Jim Caldwell.
They certainly didn't look like a sixth-seeded team in beating up on the third-seeded Patriots. They have the bulk on their offensive line and the backfield talent to have success playing power football. But at some point in the playoffs, you're going to need big plays from your passing game. The Ravens don't look like they can deliver.