Colts' Rest vs. Ravens' Momentum

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In a conference call with Baltimore media on Tuesday, Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell was asked if he was concerned with his team being rusty after his starters hadn't played a competitive game for nearly a month.

"No sir," was Caldwell's abrupt response.

Presumably, that was the result of hearing that question countless times since he decided to pull NFL Most Valuable Player quarterback Peyton Manning and many other stars midway through the third quarter of the Colts' Week 16 matchup with the New York Jets.

But, the tone is understood.

The Colts believe they will be fine after all that rest, which includes the bye that comes with the No. 1 seed. They will certainly be healthy, as key players such as defensive ends Dwight Freeney (abdominal) and Robert Mathis (quadriceps) were able to nurse themselves back to full strength.

In Indianapolis' case, they thought it would be better to turn it off down the stretch once home-field advantage was secured.

Of course, there are two sides to that argument.

"There's something to be said for coasting in, because obviously, you've earned that right to do that," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh last week. "You've gotten to the point where you've won a lot of football games up to that point, where you were able to rest some people. I think there's an advantage to that.

"There's an advantage to having to fight your way in. If you look at the history, probably, of who's won the World Championship, you've seen it come from both places, right?"

The sixth-seeded Ravens have been in the fighting category often.

They had to win three of their last four contests to earn a wild-card spot, and then dismantled the New England Patriots, 33-14, on Sunday.

The Ravens had to win their final game to qualify last year, as well. That team advanced to the AFC Championship by beating the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans before ending the season with a loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens may be slightly banged up – even though there does not seem to be any major injuries aside from the typical wear and tear of an NFL season – but they do have a steely edge of preparedness about them. Harbaugh wouldn't classify momentum from game-to-game as a contributor to success, per se, as he focused more on simply continuing to build.

"It's good to move on," Harbaugh noted. "The option, if you're looking and you say, 'OK, comparing moving, building momentum, and not moving on, stopping momentum, I'd say it's pretty clear cut.'

"You get a chance to move on, you're still playing. As far as the way it impacts this next game, I don't know that. I think it's just going to be a factor of how well we play and how well they play."

Both the Ravens and the Colts have been bitten by the bye in the past.

Indianapolis is 0-3 all-time when holding a first-round break, losing to the San Diego Chargers (2007), Steelers (2005) and Titans (1999). Obviously, each of those games was at home. The Pittsburgh loss was most-damning of the argument of resting players, as the Colts rallied to 13-0, dropped two of their last three, and then were stunned by the Steelers in the divisional round.

The only time in franchise history when the Ravens possessed a bye was in the 2006 playoffs, when the Colts came to Baltimore and stole a heartbreaking 15-6 contest.

Receiver Derrick Mason remembers that feeling well.

"That bye week doesn't help," Mason said. "If you're a team with a bye week, that really doesn't help you out a lot. I've been on teams that have had bye weeks, and we were out that next week. So, that's the only thing I can give you.

"You play the first week [and] your odds of winning goes up higher – your odds of advancing in the playoffs goes up. So, I'm just glad we have to play this week as opposed to having a bye week, because I don't think too many teams, unless you're just beat up, need a bye week or want one."

Regardless of their situation – bye or no bye, rest or no rest – the Ravens are pushing forward with a clear understanding of their current standing. While a chance to soothe aching muscles and joints would be a luxury, the Ravens just grind away.

"We're in a situation where we've had to play," Harbaugh said. "So, we've taken that set of circumstances and tried to turn it into making us the best team we can be from one week [to the next] – to win the next game, be the best team we can be.

"A team like the Colts had a different set of circumstances, but they earned it, so they decide what they need to do to give themselves the chance to be the best team they can be. We're on a different path, so you can't really compare. Maybe someday we'll be in that situation. I hope we are, and then we can talk about that."

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