Win over Colts would be as good as it gets

When the Ravens take the field against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, it will be -- quite obviously -- for one of the biggest games in the 14 years that this team has been painting Baltimore purple.

The only question, really, is, "How big?"

"It's the biggest game in the history of the organization," wide receiver Mark Clayton said with a knowing smile, "because it's the next game."

We'll get back to the question of the day in a moment, but give Clayton credit for illustrating that every game against the Colts is going to mean different things to different people.

Longtime local sports fans are going to heap all sorts of additional significance on an already-huge showdown because of the still-lingering pain of the Colts' departure from Baltimore. The players are too young to remember any of that, and they don't need any extra incentive with the Super Bowl just two victories away.

"We understand the history," coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm old enough to know the history. Most of the players aren't. You'd have to explain it to them, for sure, and I don't think they're that interested because we're focused on other things."

Still, a playoff game against the Colts is never going to be just another playoff game, and this particular playoff game against the Colts -- if the Ravens find a way to win -- could go down as the second-most-important victory in Ravens history, at least until we see what happens the rest of this postseason.

The 2001 Super Bowl stands alone at the top of the list, of course, but a playoff victory over the Colts would deliver such a broad spectrum of competitive and public satisfaction that it might rank second, no matter what happens in the AFC title game or beyond.

The Ravens got one big monkey off their backs with Sunday's resounding victory over the New England Patriots. Now they have an opportunity to do the same thing against the Colts, who have beaten them seven straight times and won the only playoff matchup between these teams in January 2007.

There was still plenty of Mayflower angst going into that game, and there was plenty of sentiment that a victory might be just the thing to exorcise all that from our collective consciousness.

Didn't happen. The Ravens' defense managed to keep Peyton Manning out of the end zone for 60 minutes, but the Ravens' offense never showed up and five field goals were enough to propel the Colts into the AFC championship game and, eventually, to a Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears.

In that game, it was the 13-3 Ravens who were coming off the playoff bye week and had the home-field advantage. This time, the roles are reversed, and the Colts opened as a solid 61/2-point favorite to move into the AFC title game against either the San Diego Chargers or New York Jets.

More reason a Ravens victory might actually allow some old-school fans to get past their bitterness toward the Colts -- not because the late Robert Irsay didn't earn it, but because it's no longer worth the emotional toll it has taken on the spurned fans of the old (some might say real) Colts.

Imagine how painful it will be for the Colts franchise if the Ravens upset the team that traded its shot at an undefeated season to improve its chances of getting to Miami. I'm guessing there are a few fans out there who might even rank that above the lopsided Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants, but let's not get carried away.

Don't misunderstand. It would be a huge and historic postseason victory if it came against the Kansas City Chiefs. It just wouldn't be in the top two.

The fact that it would be against the Colts in Indianapolis is only part of the reason it would rise to that level. It also would be a second straight victory over a truly elite team with a truly elite quarterback, and it would be a new high-water mark for the still-young Harbaugh era.

It might not be Super, but it would be close.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "Sportsline" on WBAL (1090 AM), and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at