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BEHIND ENEMY LINES

Colts' season has been fun, now what will it take for them to win?

By Bob Kravitz

The Indianapolis Star

5:49 PM EST, January 5, 2013

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Whatever happens Sunday in Baltimore, it’s been an amazing football season to countenance. Whatever happens, even a Ravens’ blowout, this has been the most fun, inspiring, unlikely season anybody around here can remember.

Remember when the season started and Colts players wore T-shirts reminding them how they were power-ranked 32nd by several publications?

They’ve built the monster, done it two, three years ahead of when anybody had a right to believe it might be done.

And they’ve done it with a couple of holdover veterans and a bunch of rookies who don’t seem to know they’re not supposed to be here.

“It’s been [a] real special [season] to me,” Reggie Wayne said. “Starting off by being, like I’ve been saying, power-ranked 32nd. That’s been pretty satisfying. Lot of people really didn’t have us winning much. They felt like we were rebuilding, and rightfully so; whatever word you want to use. The way we’ve been going about it has been great. It could have been easy for us to kind of hung our heads down low with everything that went on with coach [Chuck] Pagano and kind of had an excuse, you know, being young or whatever the case may have you.”

This is all gravy, the Colts playing with house money or whatever other tired cliché you want to use. Whatever happens from here on in, it’s an added bonus that nobody had a right to expect.

Now.

Will they win? I picked the Ravens.

Can they win? Absolutely.

If:

* They turn the ball over one time or less. Andrew Luck has been much smarter with the ball the last couple of weeks and, in fact, hasn’t turned thrown an interception in three weeks. (He should have had a fumble last week against Houston, but we won’t go there). He’s stopped trying to make plays where there aren’t any. All season long, the takeaway/giveaway margin hasn’t mattered, but it will matter in this game.

* They keep Ray Rice under control, meaning fewer than 200 yards of total offense. The Ravens haven’t used Rice quite as much this season, and while it’s not clear whether that’s been by design or by accident, they’ll need to feed the beast to beat the Colts. Indy is 29th in the league against the run and gives up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry. What’s more ominous is, the Colts are particularly weak against running teams that like to spread it out and run wide. Consider what Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs did to them, mostly running to the edges.

* Vick Ballard can run for close to 100 yards. The rookie has been another great Ryan Grigson find this season, but the Colts will have to control the ball Sunday the way they did on the final drive of the Houston game. Offensive line, you’re up.

* They can keep Luck upright. Luck was sacked 41 times and hit 116 times, the second highest in the league. Baltimore doesn’t quite have the defense it used to have, but it’s still formidable, and Haloti Ngata is still bigger and more agile than your average mid-sized sedan. And without right guard Joe Reitz in the lineup, that’s going to put even more pressure on eternal fill-in Jeff Linkenbach.

* They can get a lucky break, a fortuitous bounce of the ball. Let’s be honest: The Colts have gotten their share this year. The non-fumble by Dwayne Allen in the Tennessee game. The tuck rule call with Luck in the Houston game. Some calls have gone against them, but on balance, the Colts have come out on the right end of their fair share. They need the good fortune to continue smiling.

* The rookies don’t freak out when they get a load of M&T Bank Stadium. It’s a brutal place to play, and those young guys are going to hear things about their moms and grandmas they never could have imagined. The whole Colts-to-Indy thing is still very much alive in the Charm City, and they’ll hear about it. And with Ray Lewis announcing his retirement, it’s going to be bonkers.

* They can survive the first quarter and get this game into the fourth quarter, stay within one possession, well, you know what this Colts team does in one-possession games. If this stays close into the fourth quarter, the Ravens Pucker Factor — not an advanced stat –—will go sky-high.

* They can play even on special teams. Baltimore is terrific on special teams and the Colts run hot and cold (hot last week). It’s going to be a big day for kick and punt coverage and kick and punt returns. Pat McAfee needs to help the Colts win the field position battle, an area in which the Ravens excel.

Now, all of these things make sense.

The good news is, nothing about these Colts makes sense.

If form holds, they’ll turn it over three times and still find a way to win.

That’s been among the most fascinating things about this team: By every rational, statistical measure, they shouldn’t be any better than 7-9 (and yes, the soft schedule has helped, but they still beat Houston, Green Bay and Minnesota).

They’ve been outscored this season.

They’re near the bottom of the league in giveaway/takeaway ratio.

They’re sub-standard in every defensive category, especially the run, where they give up a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry.

All they do well is win football games.

I’m picking the Ravens — I’m a born contrarian — but wouldn’t be surprised if they found a way to pull this thing out.

We haven’t been right about them all season.

Maybe we’ll be wrong again.

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Contact him at (317) 444-6643 or via email at bob.kravitz@indystar.com. You can also follow Bob on Twitter at @bkravitz.