Dolphins Are Lucky Draw For Wild-Card Ravens

By Martin Steger

This Sunday, two teams that reached low points in their respective franchise histories last season will meet up in the playoffs as the Miami Dolphins host the Baltimore Ravens. Both teams have been huge surprises, but don’t look for either to feel content with just being in the playoffs.

The Ravens, who flipped from 5-11 in 2007 to 11-5 this season, are playing behind a stellar defense and a young offense resurrected by Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco. The Dolphins, likewise, are back from the dead after defeating just one team–Baltimore–last season. These are tough, energetic teams that play hard and grind out wins however they can.

It’s true that the Ravens already beat the Dolphins this season once, 27-13, but that’s nowhere near enough reason to write off Miami in the rematch. Baltimore, however, appears to have the edge heading into this game for other reasons.

During their first meeting, Miami’s kick returner Ted Ginn had great success against the Ravens’ coverage units. That’s an area Baltimore has improved in considerably over the latter part of the season. Sam Koch has been a phenomenal punter as of late, and if he can pin Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown deep it will be a long day for the Miami offense.

Speaking of the Dolphins’ offense, Baltimore was one of the first and only teams to solve Miami’s Wildcat-driven attack. The have the linemen to clog the line of scrimmage and the linebackers to blow up plays, especially in slow-developing Wildcat situations. Though Miami can–and will–respond with new wrinkles in the offense, Baltimore’s defense still holds the advantage here. Chad Pennington is an especially smart player who deserves more credit than he gets, but he will have to watch out for All-Pro safety Ed Reed, an equally smart player who is on a game-changing hot streak.

Miami’s defense is a tough crew that attacks with zeal, but after the departures of Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor they lack gamebreaking players outside of Joey Porter. Furthermore, the Ravens have been fairly solid in pass protection ever since halftime of the Dallas game, a good sign for a team that will need Joe Flacco to make plays down the stretch. They have been even better on the ground, with arguable Pro Bowl snubs Jason Brown leading the line and Ben Grubbs annihilating defenders. They won’t blow the Dolphins out of the water, but they may be able to grind out longer and longer runs as the game goes on.

Though they are a more-than-solid team, the Dolphins are arguably the best team for the Ravens to play on Wild Card Weekend. The Colts torched Baltimore early in the year, and the Steelers and Titans have beaten them as well. The streaking Chargers could also be dangerous, especially since an offense that heartily thumped the Ravens in 2007 is rounding back into form.

This is going to be a very tough game, one that highlights two dangerous surprise teams gunning for more. The Dolphins deserve to be here as much as the Ravens, and may very well come out as the surviving Cinderella. As these two teams have proven all year, the underdog should never be counted out. But from this particular point of view, the signs point to Baltimore continuing its unlikely postseason run beyond Sunday.