Billick: No preference for 2nd-round opponent

January 06, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

By the end of the weekend, the Ravens will know whether the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots or New York Jets will be their next opponent.

Until that moment, the Ravens won't say which team they would want to face in the second round of the playoffs.

"They are all good teams now at this point with different strengths and weaknesses," coach Brian Billick said. "I would not venture one or the other for fear of igniting something I don't want to ignite."

The best story line would be a showdown with the Colts, who have not played a postseason game in Baltimore since moving to Indianapolis in 1984.

The most intriguing battle would be the NFL's top-ranked defense going head-to-head with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, winner of three Super Bowls.

But the most favorable matchup would be the Jets, a team defined by mediocrity with the NFL's 25th-ranked offense and 20th-ranked defense.

The Jets have been one of the AFC's surprise teams under first- year coach Eric Mangini, who has turned a 4-12 team into a 10-6 one.

But there are doubts about whether New York belongs in the playoffs because it has only one victory against a winning team (New England) this season.

A look at the Ravens' prospective second-round opponents and how those matchups break down:

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 12-4, AFC South champion.

How the Colts would play at the Ravens: The Colts beat the Chiefs at the RCA Dome.

Why the Ravens would want to play them: Poor run defense, quarterback Peyton Manning.

Why they wouldn't: NFL's top receivers, defensive end Dwight Freeney and Manning.

Inside slant: Before everyone starts licking their chops at the prospect of playing against the NFL's worst run defense, let's not forget about the Ravens' struggles in running the ball. Jamal Lewis has averaged 81.3 yards in six games against the worst 10 run defenses this season. The key could be the Ravens' NFL-best time of possession. The Colts' offense seems to lose patience after teams put together clock-eating drives.

Manning would be the toughest challenge for a Ravens secondary that has had some memorable lapses. Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne would line up opposite cornerback Samari Rolle, who has given up a majority of the big plays against the Ravens this season. But Manning's biggest weakness has been flinching in the playoffs, where he is 3-6 for his career.

Bottom line: The Colts could put up more points against the Ravens' defense than any other team in the NFL. But the Ravens know they could play keep-away from Manning and wear down Indianapolis at the end. It wouldn't be an ideal matchup, but the Ravens wouldn't be sweating.

New England Patriots

Record: 12-4, AFC East champion.

How the Patriots would play at the Ravens: The Patriots beat the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium and the Colts lose to the Chiefs.

Why the Ravens would want to play them: Injuries to key players, lack of big-play threats at receiver.

Why they wouldn't: Brady, coach Bill Belichick.

Inside slant: The Patriots have won six of their past seven games, but they are still limping into the playoffs. Strong safety Rodney Harrison (knee) could miss the playoffs, and tight end Benjamin Watson (knee) and nose tackle Vince Wilfork (ankle) are not at full strength.

Despite the absence of some of his top receivers from past years, Brady is rounding into his postseason form, completing 65.8 percent of his passes in December for a 90.1 quarterback rating. He rarely makes poor decisions (his 12 interceptions this season tied a career low), which could eliminate the turnovers the Ravens thrive on. In three games against Belichick's Patriots, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair is 1-2 with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Bottom line: On paper, the Patriots are more vulnerable than they have been in years. But Brady is still Brady, especially in the postseason, where he is 10-1. And Belichick could get into the head of the Ravens' offense. This is the team the Ravens most want to avoid.

New York Jets

Record: 10-6, wild card.

How the Jets would play at the Ravens: The Jets win in New England and the Kansas City Chiefs win in Indianapolis.

Why the Ravens would want to play them: Quarterback Chad Pennington, lack of playmakers, inexperience on offensive line.

Why they wouldn't: Mangini, team discipline.

Inside slant: The best way for teams to score against the Ravens is by going deep, which is not a real concern for teams facing the Jets.

Even before multiple shoulder surgeries, Pennington never had a strong arm. On defense, the only difference maker among the front seven is middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Most of the credit for the Jets' turnaround has gone to Mangini, who has been nicknamed "Man-Genius" by New York headline writers.

His disciplined approach has led to the Jets having the third fewest number of penalties in the NFL.

New York has allowed the fewest points (102) in the league over the past eight games.

Bottom line: How would the Jets score on the Ravens' defense? With New York only 1-3 against teams with winning records, this is the team the Ravens want to see at M&T Bank Stadium next weekend.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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