Wow, I can't wait for this one to get started! I particularly like the way the Ravens have played over the last month of the season and in their wildcard victory over the AFC East champion Miami Dolphins, but the Titans pose some significant problems that the Ravens did not experience last week and will be extremely difficult to overcome.
I've gone back and forth all week, but in the end, it's all going to come down to four key factors in this one and I believe the Tennessee Titans come out the winner in each of them.
1- Coaching – The Ravens John Harbaugh has done an absolutely great job in his first season with the club, but when was the last time you saw a first-year coach win two consecutive playoff games on the road? The Titans coach Jeff Fisher is an experienced hand who has taken his club to a Super Bowl.
A major advantage for the Tennessee Titans -
2 - Home Field Advantage - The Raven are a very good road club and their rookie quarterback has actually played better on the road then he has at home, but the Titans are almost unbeatable in their own ballpark.
Advantage Titans -
3- Having an extra week to prepare is without question an advantage, but the bye week also allows your injured players an additional week to heal from the many and sundry injuries that they sustained during the course of an NFL regular season.
A major advantage for the home town Titans -
4 – I believe it is almost an impossible task for a rookie quarterback to win two playoff games on the road, especially one who at this stage of his development is more of a caretaker than a leader of the offense. Look for the Titans to give the Ravens a lot of eight men fronts, take away the run and force Flacco to beat them with his arm.
The last time the Kerry Collins faced the Ravens in the playoffs was in the Giants Super Bowl loss to the Ravens in January of 2001. In this rematch, the Titans unlike the Giants are not asking Collins to win, but rather manage and the football game. Don't be surprised if the extra week of preparation allows the Titans to install some special wildcat plays for back up quarterback Vince Young.
Advantage Titans –
With six Ravens starters listed as unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the season, including the linebacking trio of Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs, this could well be the last time we see this great Baltimore defense intact.
Due to the fact that both clubs lack fire power in their respective passing offense, are playing with an aging back up QB on one hand and an inexperienced rookie on the other, I look for a repeat of what we saw in week five.
Titans 17 – Ravens 10