Nickel Package: Five Things to Watch in Ravens vs. Colts
Aaron Wilson: As the Ravens (10-6) square off with the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) in Sunday's AFC wild-card playoff game, here's a checklist of key areas and people to watch:
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1. What will the tenor of this playoff game be like?
This game might require a few tissues and handkerchiefs.
Emotional to the core, this opening-round playoff game shapes up as a tearjerker.
There's the presence of Indianapolis Colts coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who has bravely battled leukemia to return to the sideline after three bouts with chemotherapy.
And the atmosphere of this game will be dominated by bidding farewell to inside linebacker Ray Lewis, the Johnny Unitas of this generation of football fans in Baltimore, as he plans to retire after this season.
While the Ravens could obviously advance past the wild-card round, this will be Lewis' final home game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Between Pagano and Lewis, both teams will be charged up, and the intensity should be amazing to watch. Hard hits, big plays and a noisy crowd figure to define this matchup, which also features Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell facing the team he once coached to a Super Bowl appearance before being fired last year by Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Once the well-wishes and hugs and reminiscing is over before kickoff, a hard-nosed football game is set to unfold.
"It's like playing against friends," Ravens free safety Ed Reed said. "I know once the ball snaps and the whistle blows, in between those lines is different. There's a lot of love out there between this organization. Even with Jim Caldwell being over here, it's just a lot of emotions in this game."
How do Reed and others separate the emotions from their responsibilities on the field?
"They're already separated," he said. "We're Baltimore, and they're the Colts. They have the same mentality as us. I know Chuck. He wants to win this game, and I'm sure he's telling that to his team, and I know [Colts wide receiver] Reggie [Wayne], he is the ultimate competitor. It's already separated. We all talk before the game. Me and Reggie will get dinner tomorrow. So, the family part of it is there.
"We all know this is football, and this is a business. One has to win and one has to lose. Neither one of us want to be on that losing side. But, it's already a win-win for all people, all of us who are playing in this. Because of what Chuck has been through, we know life is much more than what we're doing, but at the same time, it's our job, and we enjoy it."