The Ravens were evenly matched with the Colts for the majority of the game, until Baltimore started pulling away in the second half as Anquan Boldin consistently made big plays and Ray Rice continued to wear down Indianapolis' defense.
Baltimore throttled Andrew Luck and made it clear that as good as Luck is, he is still just a rookie quarterback. Luck struggled to 288 yards passing, as he threw 54 passes on the day, completing just 28 of them. He was unable to drive the Colts into the end zone as Indy could only muster three field goals on the day despite being in the red zone three different times.
The Ravens had three sacks on Luck, but the stat does not do justice to just how much pressure they were able to put. Paul Kruger alone had 2.5 sacks.
Ray Lewis made his return and in what was his last home game, led the Ravens with 13 tackles in leading Baltimore's dominant display of defense.
How does this exactly lend credence that Baltimore won't beat the Broncos next Saturday?
Other than the fact that Denver dominated the Ravens 34-17 in their previous meeting just three weeks ago at M & T Bank Stadium? The same game in which the Broncos led 31-3 at the end of three quarters before finally pulling back on the onslaught.
As impressive as Baltimore's defense looked, the offense looked stagnant for the most part. Although Baltimore won their game and that's all that matters at the end of the day, there was nothing in this game that made you say to yourself, "Man, the Ravens really look a lot better than they did in Week 15. Denver better watch out next Saturday."
In fact, as I mentioned earlier, Baltimore was pretty evenly-matched with an Indianapolis team that simply isn't that good. The Colts had the 21st-ranked defense, the 18th-best offense and were ranked 26th in turnover differential. Rare marks for a playoff team.
At the end of the third quarter, the Ravens were up just 17-9. Once Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal in the fourth quarter which would have cut the deficit to just five points, that's when the Ravens finally pulled away and looked like the better team, aided by Bernard Pierce's 43-yard run, which led to Joe Flacco's 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin that finally gave the Ravens the decisive 24-9 advantage.
And that's exactly the point. The Ravens—even with the return of their Hall-of-Fame bound leader Ray Lewis—looked barely better than a team that is clearly below the elite pack of the AFC that consists of just the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots.
Flacco once again looked like a hot-and-cold quarterback. One minute he's throwing passes that should have been intercepted for pick-sixes, the next minute he's throwing underthrown hail mary bombs that are made into spectacular plays by Boldin. The next minute, he looks like an elite quarterback with well-thrown passes such as the 18-yard touchdown pass to Boldin that sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
There was nothing in this game that made you think the Ravens are in the elite class of the AFC. There was nothing that made you believe that this team can go into Denver—even with the added emotional boost of Lewis' return and eventual retirement after the season—and defeat a team led by Peyton Manning and most importantly, a team that is currently on an 11-game winning streak.
Is it possible that the Ravens could upset the Broncos next Saturday? Of course. Who thought the second-year Jaguars would march into Mile High and defeat the supposedly Super Bowl-bound 1996 Denver Broncos?
It's the NFL, any team has a chance—even if they're not on the talent level of the other team.
But given what we've seen out of the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos in 2012, given what we've seen out of the Broncos for the past 11 games, and given what we saw out of the Ravens in this Wild Card Playoff game versus the Colts, is there really any reason to believe the Ravens will upset the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High?
The Ravens looked like an above average team today, just as they've looked for most of the 2012 season.
The Broncos are an elite team, just as they've looked since Week 6 of the NFL season.
Should the Ravens defeat the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the Divisional Playoffs?
The answer is a resounding no.