|NFL Football Week 14: Colts at Ravens Preview, Matchup, Picks & Odds|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Sunday, 09 December 2007 11:00|
Knocking off an AFC power might be a silver lining in the Baltimore Ravens' otherwise disappointing season. They came close once, but they'll get another chance against the franchise that once called Baltimore home and knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last season.
The Ravens (4-8) will look to avoid a seventh straight loss on Sunday - while trying to put a close loss to the Patriots behind them - when the Indianapolis Colts visit the city they abruptly left 24 years ago
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Indianapolis –9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 43.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 62% of bets for this game have been placed on Indianapolis –9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Indianapolis has visited Baltimore four times since the Ravens left Cleveland after the 1995 season, and has split those meetings, but the Colts' last trip was the most significant victory in the series. After the Ravens won the AFC North last season, Indianapolis came to Baltimore in the divisional playoff round and won 15-6 despite not scoring a touchdown en route to its Super Bowl triumph.
Given the bad blood that many Ravens fans feel toward the Colts' franchise, Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium should be filled with venom again despite the team's disappointing season - particularly after a 27-24 home loss to the Patriots on Monday night.
Baltimore had been one of the league's lowest-scoring teams heading into its game against New England, but led 24-20 late in the fourth quarter. That's when Tom Brady converted two fourth downs on a 73-yard drive, and along with some controversial calls along the way, Brady found Jabar Gaffney for the winning score with 44 seconds remaining as the Patriots remained unbeaten.
"We got bad luck," ravens defensive lineman Kelly Gregg said. "If we didn't have bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all. We need to see a gypsy or something."
The Ravens appeared to have the game won when Brady was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak earlier in the drive. But defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had signaled for a timeout right before the snap and New England got another chance, which Brady converted.
The Patriots later faced fourth down and Brady's pass fell incomplete, but a holding call gave New England a first down.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister complained.
The loss overshadowed a fine effort from Baltimore running back Willis McGahee, who ran for a season-high 138 yards and scored a touchdown for the seventh consecutive game after not scoring in the first five weeks.
Baltimore's offense has struggled all season, but that's nothing new - the Ravens have been in the bottom half of the league in total yardage every year since 2002. But unlike in years past, the defense hasn't been keeping the offense afloat lately, giving up 28.3 points per contest in Baltimore's current six-game slide.
The Colts (10-2) are in prime position to earn a bye in the AFC playoffs after having to win three games to reach the Super Bowl last season. They've won three in a row after dropping consecutive games to New England and San Diego.
The most important victory in that stretch was last week's 28-25 win against Jacksonville that opened up a two-game lead in the AFC South over the Jaguars. Peyton Manning completed 20-of-29 passes for four touchdowns and 288 yards.
"I feel great about where we are right now,'' Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "Going into the fourth quarter of the season, we've got a good lead in the division and we're second in the conference. If we'd lost, we'd have felt we'd have to win all four of our last games."
The Colts can wrap up the division this weekend with a win, a loss by Jacksonville and a loss or tie by Tennessee. They may need to win all four games to ensure a bye since they have a one-game lead over AFC North leader Pittsburgh, which has the better conference record.
Indianapolis has put itself in good position despite a rash of injuries to some of its biggest stars. Dwight Freeney is out for the season with a foot injury, Marvin Harrison has missed seven games with a knee injury, left tackle Tony Ugoh missed five games with a neck injury, and Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark have missed time as well.
Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, may finally get his chance to return to the lineup against Baltimore.
"We'll have to see," Dungy said. "He's improving and I think he has a chance to play this week. When the doctors feel he's ready to not just play, but play and be ready to go ahead next week, that's when he'll be ready to go."
Regardless of who he has to work with on offense, Manning is certain of one thing - the Ravens' defense will be tough to crack despite its recent struggles.
"Their defense is what I remember it was last year and what it was the year before," he told the team's official Web site. "(The New England game) was a reminder of how good they really are."
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