By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North correspondent
One of the most compelling match-ups - in any sport - is that of the young prodigy versus the old pro.
Andrew Luck is starting the first of what is sure to be many playoff games in his career on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, arguably the best defensive player of his generation is beginning his swan song.
Ray Lewis announced earlier this week that he will be retiring at the end of the season. This is his last hurrah. He represents a proud, but aging, Raven defensive unit that dominated the league and intimidated offenses for more than a decade. Luck represents a new wave. While Indianapolis fans are ready to say “out with the old and in with the new” Baltimore fans aren’t ready to let a bunch of kids come into their house and push them around.
Both teams will certainly have a rallying cry this weekend. Ray’s last stand may not be able to touch Indianapolis’ Chuckstrong movement, but when the Ravens and Colts meet up on Sunday, there should be plenty of emotion to go around.
Here are five things to look out for in this weekend’s game.
1. Baltimore’s record is significantly better with Ray Lewis.
Baltimore has missed its warrior and leader in the past and he may not be the player he once was, but the Ravens still reach new level of success with their defensive leader on the field.
This year, the Ravens went 5-1 with Ray Lewis and 5-5 without him. The Ravens will have to capitalize on their leader back in the lineup to succeed in the playoffs. This is the final year of Lewis’ stellar career and, while he’s a lock to walk into the Hall of Fame in five years, you know he wants to go out with one final championship run.
2. Only five rookie quarterbacks have won playoff games.
Since the 1970 AFL/ NFL merger, five quarterbacks won in the postseason their first year. Yes, the majority have occurred since 2008 (Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and TJ Yates) and one will definitely win this year, but that shouldn't take away from the rarity of the accomplishment.
Of the five winning rookie quarterbacks, only two were on the road (Flacco and Sanchez) so Colts signal caller Andrew Luck will have his work cut out for him. If Ray Lewis is back and inspires the defense to shut down the 23rd ranked passing offense in Real Quarterback Rating, Indy’s young gunslinger will be in for a rough day.
3. The Ravens are 3-7 all-time versus the Colts.
The Ravens have only played 10 games against the team that used to call their city home. While eight have been played against Peyton Manning - who obviously isn’t around Indy any more - Baltimore’s struggles versus the Colts have to be considered when examining Sunday’s game.
4. Joe Flacco's home passer rating goes up in the playoffs as well.
The Baltimore signal caller didn’t take the next step toward becoming an elite quarterback this season, but he’s in the playoffs for the fifth time in as many years and he certainly had his moments this fall - particularly at home.
I have written about the discrepancy between Flacco’s home and road performances already this year, and now that the regular season is over the numbers continue to tell a compelling story. On the road, Flacco finished with a 74.9 rating. At home, that number jumped to 99.0.
Flacco has played nine career playoff games heading into this weekend. Eight have been on the road. However, despite success in the win/loss department, Flacco hasn’t exactly lit it up in his road outings.
Here are his game-by-game passer ratings in the playoffs:
97.1 (his one home game.)
Take away one dominant performance in Kansas City and every one of Flacco’s playoff performances on the road pales in comparison to what he did at home. Perhaps we’ll need a bigger sample size of playoff games in Baltimore, but based on the regular season we know he can succeed on his home turf.
5. The five best players in this game
Sometimes all you have to do to determine the winner is look at who the best players are and which team most of them play for. Here are the five best playing Sunday afternoon.
1. Ray Rice - His playoff production - minus a dominant performance in New England in the 2009/10 playoffs - hasn’t been Rice-esque, but he’s still one of the three best backs in the league.
2. Ed Reed - Like Lewis, Reed is on his last legs, but he might have a bit more gas in the tank. He’s also owned Wildcard weekend in recent seasons, racking up nine tackles, four passes defensed three interceptions and a touchdown in his last three wildcard games.
3. Andrew Luck - You might have thought I’d put Ray Lewis here, but while his presence is inspirational he is a shell of his former self on the field. Luck, on the other hand, is proving to be as good as advertised and the way he is able to win games late will prove valuable in the playoffs.
4. Terrell Suggs - He’s been hurt this year (so has everyone else on Baltimore’s defense) but he’s still a playmaker and he’s still the reigning defensive player of the year.
5. T.Y. Hilton - Reggie Wayne had a bounce-back year, but Hilton has emerged as a big-play guy that Luck will hit for at least one long pass each game.