The 2012 playoffs are finally here, with the 12 surviving teams -- the best of the best in the NFL -- set to fight it out for the Super Bowl XLVII title. The action kicks off this weekend with the wild-card round. To get you ready, let's take a closer look at all four games.
When these teams last played each other, on Dec. 11, 2011, Jim Caldwell was the Indianapolis Colts' head coach, Chuck Pagano was the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator and Bruce Arians was the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator, already mulling being swept for the season by Baltimore. Now? The Colts are Chuckstrong, led by Pagano as head coach and Arians as offensive coordinator, while Caldwell is the Ravens' offensive coordinator. The point? These teams know each other. And Baltimore loved its Colts. But not since 1984. Finally, this could be the Ravens' final game with veteran Ray Lewis on the roster; on Wednesday, the future Hall of Famer announced that he will retire after this season.
Player to watch
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts: Luck has committed 17 turnovers (and notched 13 touchdowns) in eight road games this season. He'll have to clean that up and beware of Ravens safety Ed Reed, in particular. Asked to do a lot in Arians' offense this season, Luck responded, throwing for a rookie-record 4,374 yards despite taking 41 sacks. Luck will be playing on his biggest stage thus far, and the Colts should benefit from his ability to be clutch; he has seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: If Flacco can channel the quarterback who dismantled the New York Giants in Week 16, he'll have success against any defense, including the Colts' unit. A question: In the final year of his rookie contract, does Flacco feel the heat as he seeks a long-term deal? Furthermore, will he feel the heat from pass rushers Robert Mathis (eight sacks) and Dwight Freeney (five)?
Matchup to watch
Ray Rice vs. Colts' rushing defense: The Colts allowed three 100-yard rushers in their past six games (and the Houston Texans' Arian Foster was almost a fourth, putting up 96 yards in Week 17). If Rice finds openings against the league's 29th-ranked rushing defense, he can carry the Ravens and make Flacco's job easier.
Did you know?
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has made the most career postseason field goals (45) in NFL history. ... Vinatieri will be playing in his 25th postseason game, which will be the second-most all time, behind only Jerry Rice (29). ... Luck will be the first quarterback selected with the first overall pick to start a playoff game as a rookie in the common draft era (since 1967). ... Thirty-six players on the Colts' 53-man roster were not with Indianapolis in 2011. ... Reed has picked off eight passes in the playoffs, more than any other active player. ... In eight postseason contests, Rice has surpassed the 100-yard mark just twice.
Will anyone outside the state of Maryland be rooting for the Ravens? That doesn't necessarily matter, of course. But not only are the Colts an appealing underdog, they've won nine of 11. Pagano wanted his team to go into the playoffs "with momentum." Meanwhile the Ravens have lost four of five. "Playoffs," Reed said, "are different from the regular season." They are. But can the Ravens flip the switch?
Indianapolis Colts 19, Baltimore Ravens 17
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