At M&T Bank Stadium, it's all about the noise. So says Dan Dierdorf, the CBS commentator who'll work Sunday's AFC playoff between the Ravens and Houston Texans.

Dierdorf believes the fans hold the wild card in Baltimore's march to the Super Bowl.

"The teams have some similarities — both run the football well and play aggressive, in-your-face defense — but there's one big difference in Baltimore: the crowd," he said. "I always thought Arrowhead Stadium [in Kansas City, Mo.] was the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL, but I'm not sure that M&T isn't on a par. The fans there know how to make some noise, and the Ravens use it to their advantage."

If the din doesn't rattle Houston's rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates, then Dierdorf will be surprised.

"I don't know what was the biggest game that he [Yates] played while at North Carolina, but he's never seen anything like what he's going to see Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, where the noise from the stands becomes almost a physical thing," Dierdorf said. "He's going to struggle to communicate with teammates, and his linemen will have trouble getting off on snap counts.

"That is one loud place to play."

Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) have worked three Ravens games this season, including the 29-14 victory over the Texans in October. That the home team is heavily favored (71/2 points) "doesn't raise my eyebrows," he said.

"I mean, [Ravens quarterback] Joe Flacco has more playoff starts than Yates has regular-season starts. Yes, Joe has his detractors and, yes, he holds the football too long. But with the team he has around him, is he good enough to win the Super Bowl? A lot of QBs who aren't his equal, talentwise, have done so.

"Look at Joe's raw data: 80 touchdown passes and 46 interceptions in his four years. I'm not trying to be a Joe Flacco apologist, but those numbers, almost two-to-one, are pretty darn good."

That said, Dierdorf opined that "the Ravens are a much better team when they operate around Ray Rice, and not filling the air with footballs. He [Rice] just radiates leadership, saying, 'I've got broad shoulders, let me carry this team.'

"Ray is the total package. He reminds you of that line about Seabiscuit: 'Though he be but little, he is fierce.'"

Though both fell off this year, Dierdorf said, the Ravens' defense is still better with old-timers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on the field.

"If you want to sit Reed down in the postseason, then buyer beware," he said. "I know Ed is not a tackling machine, but these are the playoffs.

"Lewis looks like he's moving a lot better since the toe injury. Ray has 16 hard years in the knapsack. That's a lot of football, but he has earned the right to go out however he wants to. He's smart enough to orchestrate his own departure."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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