2008 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Preview: Ravens at Titans

Baltimore Ravens (12-5) at Tennessee Titans (13-3), Sat 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

Broadcast Team: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

If you like defense and teams playing hardnosed football this is the game for you.  The Ravens nicknamed “Organized Chaos” finished the season ranked 2nd in the NFL with an average of 261.1 yards allowed and the Titans are not far behind with 293.6 yards allowed, which put them 3rd in the AFC. The last time these two teams met in week 5, the Titans came back to defeat the Ravens 13-10 in Baltimore.  There definitely is no love lost between these two former AFC Central rivals as their last meeting featured some chippy play between Titans CB Cortland Finnegan and Ravens WR Derrick Mason.

Both teams like to talk and it will be the squad that maintains their emotions that will win this game.  The key players to me on both squads are their quarterbacks (Ravens rookie Joe Flacco and Titans 14-year veteran Kerry Collins).  Sure both teams are built to run the ball first with their two-headed monsters (Ravens LeRon McClain and Willis McGahee — Ravens led the AFC with an average of 148.5 yards a game; Titans are led by NFL leading rookie rusher Chris Johnson (1,228 yards w/ a 4.9 average) and LenDale White), but the quarterbacks need to step it up in this game for this team to win.  Flacco surprisingly didn’t receive one Rookie of the Year vote after finishing with numbers 257-428, 2971 yards, 14 TDs, and 12 INTs, but efficiency is what matters most to the Ravens “protect the ball” offense.  The rookie from D1-AA Delaware will need to improve on his pedestrian wildcard numbers (9-23, 135 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT and 1 rushing TD) in order for the Ravens to have a chance in hostile Nashville, Tennessee.  The Titans feature opportunistic ballhawks in Michael Griffin and Cortland Finnegan in their secondary, so Flacco will have to be good with his reads.

Collins, who did a commendable job of leading his team to the NFL’s best record is attempting to become the first quarterback in NFL history with at least one playoff win for three different teams, will need to prove he is ready for the playoffs.  He has a lot to prove as way back in week 5, the 1-time Pro Bowl player threw for just 163 yards and had a pair of interceptions.  His old nemesis from Super Bowl XXXV, Ray Lewis, will be waiting with the rest of Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s attacking defense will be coming for the graybeard quarterback.  Though the former Penn State signal caller has avoided making bad throws for most of the season, you never know how pressure is going to affect him (finished with 7 INTs in 2008 and he has 10 INTs in only 6 playoff games for his career). You know if Ravens LB’s and D-line can get pressure opportunistic Ravens S Ed Reed (2 INTs vs. Dolphins and an NFL leading 9 INTs in the regular season) will be looking to make a game-changing play.   

An important piece of this game will be both teams ability to stop the run and injuries may cause the Titans to alter their plan of action.  Two key defenders, DT Albert Haynesworth (knee) and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin), are back from injury but neither is expected to be 100%.  The Titans will need Haynesworth to control the middle or it could be a long day for them.  Also the Titans’ offense may be in trouble as veteran leader and center Kevin Mawae (elbow) probably will not play.

LV‘s Pick:  This is a tough game to predict, because these two teams will offer no suprises in their attack (run the ball and play stifling defense). This game is a black and blue special, where if they played 10 times, I guarantee you that there would 5 wins on each side. The teams both have good coaches, strong offensive and defensive lines, run the ball consistently, and play good special teams.  Collins last time led the Titans on scoring drives of 80 and 81 yards, but I just don’t see that happening this time.  Fueled by a timely Ed Reed interception, the Ravens continue to win ugly on their way to the AFC Championship game.  Ravens 23, Titans 20

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