Ravens might say playing Chiefs over Colts doesn't matter, but …

January 03, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

Since coach John Harbaugh would not agree to be hooked up to a polygraph for his weekly news conference on Monday, we'll have to take him at his word that it didn't matter to him whether the Ravens were matched up against the Kansas City Chiefs or the Indianapolis Colts in this weekend's opening round of the NFL playoffs.

"It doesn't matter,'' he said. "I think once you get your assignment, that's the one you're excited about. If it had been the Colts, we'd be excited about that, and you turn your attention to them."

Whether he really believes that or not, there are a lot of people around town who are pretty relieved that the Ravens aren't going to open their playoff run dealing with Peyton Manning and a week of horseshoe-related historical hysteria. And I'm pretty sure there were a few on the sidelines at M&T Bank Stadium silently rooting for the Oakland Raiders to rough up the Chiefs on Sunday and knock them out of the No. 3 seed.

It actually came down to the Colts holding off the Tennessee Titans a few hours later to jump over the Chiefs in the playoff seedings, and former Colts coach Tony Dungy wasn't afraid to articulate what that meant to the Ravens.

"John Harbaugh is happy," Dungy said on NBC's Football Night in America. "He's never going to say it. He's going to give you all the coach speak — 'It doesn't matter' — but they had lost eight times [in a row] to Indianapolis. They're ecstatic that they're going to Kansas City."

Why wouldn't they be? Even if you can set aside the painful parting in 1984 and just focus on the rivalry with the Ravens, there are some good reasons to want to avoid the Colts, starting with one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Talk all you want about the struggles they've had this year, given the choice between facing Manning or Matt Cassel — who, by the way, was 11 for 33 for 115 yards on Sunday — it isn't hard to figure out who the Ravens would rather face.

Also, it's pretty likely that the Ravens would have had to play on Saturday night in Indianapolis, since that would have been considered the more attractive AFC television matchup. Nobody wants to be the road team off a short practice week.

Not that playing the Chiefs on the road is going to be a picnic. They were undefeated at Arrowhead Stadium this year until the loss to the Raiders. Cassel is a much better quarterback than he showed on Sunday and the Chiefs have a dangerous running game, but the Ravens have to believe they match up better against them, all things considered.

"But now you look at them and you're like, 'Wow, this is going to be a big challenge,'" Harbaugh said. "This is going to be a tough football game. There's a reason these guys have the record they have. There's a reason they won their division. There's a reason they got a home game. It's really a tough place to play. Historically in the playoffs, it's been an incredibly tough place to play. So, we've got our hands full."

Still, the oddsmakers posted the Ravens as an early 2 ½-point favorite, which was no great surprise considering their 12-4 record is tied for second-best in the conference. They are one of three road playoff teams that will go into the weekend with better win-loss records than their hosts, though the most glaring example of the NFL's divisional imbalance is in the NFC, where the defending Super Bowl champion Saints have to travel to Seattle to play the first team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record.

There has been some speculation that the presence of the 7-9 Seahawks in the middle of the playoff seedings could persuade football owners to consider changing the playoff format that ranks the playoff teams by win-loss records, something Harbaugh would be willing to endorse if it were retroactive to this week.

"This year, I think it should be the other way around,'' Harbaugh said with a smile. "Some people say you could have two 9-7 teams who beat each other up in a great division [and] would have a worse record than a team that comes out of maybe not as strong of a division. I haven't really seen that play out yet, so I'm probably for the re-seeding right now. That's where I would be, given our situation this year, but it really doesn't matter. We've got to go play there."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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