Between Ray Lewis' imminent retirement and Chuck Pagano's inspiring return to the field after battling leukemia, the emotion will be thick enough to cut at the Bank on Sunday. But most of the national media seem to think Lewis' emotional return will carry the day, and the Ravens to the win.
Here is how some of the national media see the game:
Tedy Bruschi, ESPN: Ravens (no score given):
"I love what Andrew Luck has done this year but I think it comes to an end here in Baltimore. I think the emotion that Ray Lewis is going to bring back, and Joe Flacco playing quarterback at home, I think that's going to be the difference. They're going to rise to the occasion."
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Colts 24, Ravens 23
"The news that Ray Lewis will retire after the postseason transformed a toss-up into a sure thing. Which makes me very nervous. If I’m Colts coach Chuck Pagano, here’s what I’m telling my team: “Guys, they’re scared. They’re not just scared, they’re desperate. They know that we’re the better team. So how do they close the gap? Ray Lewis tells them he’s retiring. I know Ray Lewis. He ain’t retiring. Especially if he loses. And he will. And they know it.” Or something like that. Either way, few stories in all of football are more compelling than Ray’s. But one is Chuck Pagano’s, and the Colts won’t be deterred one bit by the knowledge that they’ll be sending Lewis into a retirement that may not take."
Elliott Harrison, NFL.com: Ravens 27, Colts 23
"Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I originally leaned toward taking the pesky Colts. Ray Lewis' retirement announcement changed that. You can't tell me the Ravens aren't going to be fired up in Lewis' swan song in Baltimore. ...
Can Andrew Luck do it again? That's the question. Losing Lardarius Webb for the season was a huge blow to the Ravens' secondary. The back four in Baltimore is exploitable, but Luck must have time to throw and Vick Ballard must give Indy some juice in the ground game. ... So, can the Ravens really sit Lewis in his final game? That would be like Luke Skywalker asking Obi-Wan to tap out in Empire because he was merely a shadow (hologram? ghost? Force essence?) of his former self.
Ah, either way, Luck is gonna have to sling it 50 times"
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Ravens 31, Colts 17
"It just makes sense that Chuck Pagano will guide the Colts in his first playoff game as a head coach against the Ravens, whose defense he coordinated last season. There should be plenty of love for Pagano from his former players — and even the tough Baltimore fans should be able to appreciate what his team accomplished on the field while he battled leukemia. Emotions will be running high for the Ravens, too, as they know a loss would mean the end of linebacker Ray Lewis' storied career.
... Fortunately for Lewis, he can lean on stellar defenders Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs to pressure Luck into mistakes and on fellow future Hall of Famer Ed Reed (who might retire soon himself) to capitalize on at least one of them.
The Ravens, with former Colts coach Jim Caldwell now running their offense, should counter with a heavy dose of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in the running game. That should set up Joe Flacco for favorable shots against the Colts secondary. The Ravens must pound away a bit early to wear down the Colts' 3-4 edge pass rush. ... As usual, Flacco, Rice and coach John Harbaugh will produce an opening playoff win, and in so doing, will keep Lewis' career alive and well."
Peter King, SI.com: Ravens 27, Colts 24
"I was at the January 2007 Colts-at-Ravens playoff affair, when Peyton Manning (Indy) outdueled Steve McNair (Baltimore), and somehow, I find it fitting that what could be Ray Lewis' last game comes against Manning's heir in his first playoff game. And Andrew Luck is going to make it hot for the Ravens. With seven second-half comeback victories (either from behind or from a tie) this year, Luck is going to test the aging Ravens D. ... T.Y. Hilton, the rookie wideout, has been as much of a coverage nightmare as Reggie Wayne, and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen has had some Gronk moments. But I think Baltimore will play keepaway with Ray Rice touching the ball 30 times. That's their best chance to make a run in these playoffs."
Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: Ravens 26, Colts 23
"The Colts are one of the biggest surprises of the season. ... . The Ravens won the AFC North, but they haven't played well the last six weeks, aside from blowing out the Giants. They aren't the same Ravens. The defense isn't very good. Luck should have some chances down the field. But when you look inside the Colts numbers, you wonder how they won so many games. They were 21st in point differential and minus-12 in the takeaway-giveaway department. That matters. Joe Flacco will play well here and the Ravens will move on -- in a tight one."
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports.com: Ravens 34, Colts 21
"One year after going 2-14, the Colts replaced arguably the best quarterback in NFL history with a rookie, made changes to an entire coaching staff and front office, had a 1-2 start to the season and lost their head coach for most of the regular season with an illness ... and still, somehow finished 11-5. It’s the story of the 2012 NFL season. But, I fear the dream ends in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens have lost just two of their past 18 home games. They’ve won playoff games in each of the past four years, and I don’t see them losing this one."
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Ravens 28, Colts 17
"It’s amazing that the Colts are here at all after being the worst team in the league last season, but this is where I see the Colts’ great run coming to an end. Ravens running back Ray Rice will have a huge game against a weak Colts defense, and look for Jacoby Jones to make at least one big play on special teams. The Ravens will move on to the divisional round in Denver."