By Dan Groob, TiqIQ
“Andrew Luck.” The list of 1st overall picks to lead their teams into the playoffs as rookies begins and ends with the Indianapolis Colts’ historically impressive young quarterback.
Luck has already delivered a ridiculous six fourth quarter comebacks in his first season as a pro, taking the Colts from 2-14 to 11-5 and the 5th seed in the AFC. Along the way, he broke the rookie record for passing yardage in a season and posted a Total QBR of 65, good for 11th in the league sandwiched between future Hall of Famers Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
Perhaps most impressive however, has been Luck’s toughness and willingness to use his legs. With the third best Run EPA (‘Expected Points Added’ through running, a component of Total QBR) in football at 21.1, Luck’s scrambling ability proved to be more impactful than that of Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers, and Colin Kaepernick this season.
While the accolades one could bestow upon Luck are endless and unprecedented, opposite him on the Baltimore Ravens’ sideline is no slouch. Joe Flacco, in his fifth season out of Delaware, has already achieved great success becoming one of only two quarterbacks ever to have won at least one playoff game in each of his first four seasons. With a win on Sunday, he will become the first quarterback ever to accomplish the feat in each of his first five seasons.
Flacco finished the regular season with a career high 3,817 passing yards despite being pulled early in Baltimore’s inconsequential Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. In the Ravens’ playoff clinching win against the New York Giants in the week prior, Flacco completed 25 of 36 passes for 309 yards and two scores, and added another score on the ground via a one yard plunge. With nary a turnover, Flacco’s QBR for the game checked in at a near-flawless 94.4. This was the third best performance of Flacco’s career, and it came at a time that served to add to Flacco’s billing as a big game performer.
On the other side of the football, the Ravens are set to have Ray Lewis return to the field this week after having missed 11 consecutive weeks with a torn triceps. Irrespective of Lewis’ return, this is not your ‘Balty D’ of past years. Baltimore finished this season ranked 20th in Run Defense after having ranked second and fifth over the past two seasons. The Ravens also declined from fourth to 17th against the pass.
Of course, the Colts run game doesn’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of opponents. Lead backs Vick Ballard and Donald Brown each averaged a paltry 3.9 yards per carry this season, lacking any big play ability whatsoever. As a result, Luck was forced to attack opposing defenses through the air. Luck’s average target depth of 10.1 yards downfield was the highest in football. However, Luck’s 18 interceptions thrown were one shy of the league lead while his seven interceptions dropped led the league. Simply put, he creates turnover opportunities for defenses at this stage of his career.
It may seem counterintuitive given the data, but Luck will actually need to attack downfield for the Colts to have any chance in this game. Labeled as an overachiever by the stat gurus, Indianapolis actually had a negative-30 point differential this season. The next worst team to make the playoffs was Minnesota at positive-31. With an unspectacular running back tandem, and Lewis’ discipline and pursuit in underneath coverage, the Colts will have no choice but to try to create big plays downfield if they are to stay in this game.
With their team favored by a touchdown, at home, and getting the most noteworthy emotional leader in NFL history back for his last hurrah, Ravens fans seem none too worried about this matchup with the weakest team in the playoffs. According to TiqIQ’s secondary market ticket analytics, the average seat at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday is selling for $253 dollars—only 18.5% above the season average of $213.50.