The Ravens have everything to play for Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. They need to win to stay ahead of the streaking Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Indianapolis Colts? They’re playing to avoid infamy. That shouldn’t be understated, though it’s also hard to ignore the wide gap in talent between these two teams. Here are five storylines to watch on Sunday as the 9-3 Ravens host the 0-12 Colts at The Bank:
1. A chance to kick the Colts: Quarterback Peyton Manning has tormented the Ravens over the years as the Colts have won eight straight meetings, including the postseason. But with Manning still on the shelf with a neck injury, the Ravens will get a chance to exact some revenge, and they couldn’t care less who is under center. Let’s not forget, though, that the Indianapolis defense has given the Baltimore offense fits, too. The Ravens haven’t scored a touchdown in their past three meetings with the Colts, but that should change Sunday.
2. See the Ravens run: Ray Rice set a new personal best with 204 rushing yards in last week’s 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, and the Ravens established a new team record with 55 rush attempts. They should stick with that game plan Sunday (and I’m not just saying that because Rice is on my fantasy team). The Colts have the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense. Take the air out of the ball and they will take the air out of that defense.
3. No wins for Dan Orlovsky: I kind of feel bad for Manning’s replacement, Orlovsky, who played under Randy Edsall (and Towson coach Rob Ambrose) at Connecticut. Not only was Orlovsky a member of the Detroit Lions team that went 0-16 a few years ago, his three NFL teams have never won a game in his 17 appearances. He will have trouble busting that streak Sunday, especially if Terrell Suggs and the Ravens bring big-time heat.
4. Remember the Dolphins: Four years ago, the Ravens faced a winless team in December that was desperate for a win. The Dolphins, who were coached by Cam Cameron, beat a 4-9 Ravens team in overtime, a loss that Suggs admitted probably cost Brian Billick his job. Suggs said that loss still stings a little, but for the most part, the Ravens veterans have moved on, and they were quick to point out what they have to play for Sunday.
5. That’s the kicker: Ravens Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff will be a game-time decision, though the assumption is that he’ll play considering the team didn’t sign a replacement on Friday or Saturday. Cundiff, who tweaked his calf in practice this week, missed two field goals in Cleveland, but he is automatic at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens would be wise to jump on the Colts early and make Cundiff’s sore calf a non-factor in the outcome. Take your pick: Who will win Sunday, what will be the final score and who will be the Most Valuable Raven?