2008 NFL Playoffs: Ravens at Dolphins

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Miami Dolphins (11-5), 1 p.m., CBS

Broadcasting Team: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Two of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams will be looking for “Respect” as they square off in a very interesting AFC wildcard match-up.  When the season started if you had told me the Dolphins (1-15 in 2007) and Ravens (3-13 in 2007) both with rookie coaches would be playing each other in the playoffs, I would have told you that you were crazy.  But reality has set in and yes these two upstarts will be meeting on Sunday. 

It will be a match-up of Miami’s efficient offense against Baltimore’s ball-hawking defense.  The Dolphins tied with the New York Giants for the league lead this season in fewest giveaways, turning the ball over an NFL record-low 13 times (7 interceptions, 6 fumbles lost), while the Ravens forced 34 turnovers (26 interceptions, 8 fumbles recovered) – the most in the league in 2008.  Expect a lot of running the football on offense for both teams and attacking defenses looking for turnovers on the other side.  The last time these two met on October 19th in the same spot – Dolphin Stadium, the surprising result was an easy 27-13 Ravens win.  The Ravens were (2-3) at the time and it took a solid effort from running back Willis McGahee (105 yards) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (44-yard interception touchdown return) to propel them passed the Dolphins. 

In the October game, the Ravens attacking defense negated Miami’s “Wildcat” offense — produced only four yards in five plays – but you can expect the Dolphins to try and bring the single-wing attack back for the playoffs.  The Dolphins behind rookie Tony Sparano and a front office led by Bill Parcels have built a team that truly believes in themselves as shown by their 24-17 dismantling of the Jets in Week 17, which gave them the AFC East title.  The Dolphins have won 9 of their last 11 games since the loss and they will be looking to fuel their home crowd with a playoff victory.  The Dolphins will look to 2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year quarterback Chad Pennington (321-476, 3653 yards, 19 TDs, and 7 INTs) and Wildcat QB/Running back Ronnie Brown (916 yards rushing and 10 TDs) to stymie the Ravens ferocious defense led by Pro Bowl Safety/Probable NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed (NFL Leader with 9 INTs).  Miami finished the season with the second fewest interceptions in the league (7 to Washington’s 6) and Baltimore had the most pickoffs with 26.   

We all know about the Dolphins “Wildcat” offense against Ravens’ defense led by future hall of famer Ray Lewis, but to me the key to this game is the play of Ravens’ rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (257-428, 2971 yards, 14 TDs, and 12 INTs). Though the former D1AA passer has looked efficient all season including in late season wins over the Cowboys and Jaguars, he will be facing a defense that leads the NFL in turnover ratio (+17).  The Dolphins are high on the turnover margin, because their offense protects the ball and on defense, linebacker Joey Porter (17.5 sacks for first in AFC) leads a unit that is underrated but is almost as fierce as the Ravens. Flacco will need to avoid pressure while distributing the ball to TE Todd Heap and receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason.

LV’s Pick: Though the Ravens have won 2 of the last 3 meetings between these two teams, I have a feeling the pressure of a big spot may get to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco — Ravens only 2-5 versus playoff teams in 2008.  The Dolphins are at home and Pennington looks like he has turned back the clock to his New York Jet glory days.  The Dolphins hold a 5-2 edge lifetime in this series, so I expect the Dolphins to buck the trend of the road teams winning by squeaking out a 16-13 victory in a black-and-blue defensive game.

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