Taking a look at Sunday's matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens from a Patriots standpoint.
Of the two AFC Wild Card games taking place this weekend, Colts vs. Ravens is the one I am most excited to watch. Not only should that be a better game against more evenly matched teams, but the potential storylines that will be coming out of this one must have the media salivating like me at a taco bar. Ray Lewis's last game in Baltimore. The Colts returning to the city that they completely screwed over a few years ago. Andrew Luck's first every playoff appearance. Chuck Pagano leading his team into the postseason. The potential for a Luck vs. Manning showdown. The potential for a Lewis vs. Manning showdown. Every possible outcome of this game means that we'll get so witness something exciting the following week.
From a Patriots perspective, we'll know a lot more about how much this game impacts the team after the Bengals play the Texans. If Houston wins, they are locked into playing the Patriots at Foxboro and whoever wins Sunday's game will travel to Denver. If the Bengals win, then Sunday's winner will be playing the Patriots instead.
Of the two teams, I'm least excited about the possibility of playing the Ravens. Baltimore is just one of those teams that always gives the Patriots all that they can handle, and I personally put absolutely no weight in their late-season slump should these two teams meet again. I can't think of a Pats/Ravens game off the top of my head that hasn't been a fight to the very end, and the last thing that this team needs is an exhausting, grind-em-out escape that saps all of the team's energy and leaves them with very little recovery time should they need to travel to Colorado. While I'm definitely confident that the Patriots can beat the Ravens, I'm equally as confident that said victory will not come easy, and I just don't want to have to deal with the Ravens unless we absolutely have to.
The Colts, on the other hand, are a beatable team, as evidenced by Week 11's 59-24 blowout. I don't think that, should the two teams meet again, the game will be nearly as one-sided, but Indy just can't match up defensively with New England's offense. The Colts are a better team than they were in Week 11, but so are the Patriots, and I think that Indianapolis would be a great opponent to open the postseason with.
However, if Houston wins, then all of that becomes moot, and it's all about which team has the best chance of unseating the Broncos at home. And as much as I'd love to see Andrew Luck march into Mile High and take out Peyton Manning on his own turf, I just don't see that happening. And yes, I know that the Broncos already destroyed the Ravens during the regular season, but I think that all that game does is motivate Baltimore to go out there and lay the smack down. In what would very likely be the last time Ray Lewis will ever line up across from Peyton Manning, my money is on Lewis there every single time.
In a perfect world, the Bengals would beat the Texans and the Colts would beat the Ravens, setting up a Bengals/Broncos and Patriots/Colts Divisional Round. Then the Bengals would upset the Broncos and the Patriots would handle the Colts to set up a New England vs. Cincinnati AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. But is that going to happen? Probably not. Odds are that the Patriots will be playing the Texans and the Broncos will be playing the Ravens before New England has to get on a plane to Denver. But anything can happen in this crazy league, so you can't rule anything out. All we can do for now is watch.
And eat. And drink. And then eat some more.