Playoff Experience Favors Ravens


Third-year Ravens running back Ray Rice is just 23 years old.

But with five playoff games under his belt, Rice is a postseason veteran.

"I've got buddies in this league that haven't even scratched the playoffs," Rice said. "I've been telling them the playoffs are unlike no other. Being that I've played in some playoff games now, I know what it's all about."

Rice is just one of many Ravens players who have a good idea of what playoff football is like.

The Ravens have 42 players on their 53-man roster who have suited up for a playoff game. Many of them have added five playoff appearances to their resume the past two seasons.

By comparison, the young Chiefs have just 22 players with postseason experience.

Kansas City traded for linebacker Mike Vrabel in 2009 and signed running back Thomas Jones and guard Ryan Lilja this past offseason. They combine for two-thirds of the team's postseason experience, in terms of number of playoff games. Vrabel, previously of the New England Patriots, owns a quarter of it, according to

Thus, Baltimore's playoff familiarity may be a distinct advantage heading into Sunday's wild-card matchup.

"The guys who have been there before understand what it's like to play in those kinds of environments," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It doesn't guarantee anything, but it definitely helps."

Any experience is good in the NFL. But how does playoff experience specifically help?

Much of it, the Ravens said, focuses around the mental aspect of the game.

First of all, the Ravens have learned what it feels like to lose. They were eliminated in the AFC Championship in 2008 and Divisional Round in 2009.

"I don't think guys necessarily who haven't been in the playoff understand how quickly it's over, how much it stings," Harbaugh said on his weekly radio show.

"A defeat in the playoffs is kind of a devastating thing. It really sticks in your craw; I don't think you ever forget. All of a sudden it's a very empty feeling. If you've been there and lost in the playoffs it just makes it that much more meaningful."

Then there's the pregame butterflies. Cornerback Chris Carr, who first tasted the postseason in 2008 when his Tennessee Titans faced the Ravens in the Divisional Round, said teams can get off to a slower start if they're still adjusting emotionally.

"The first time you play in the playoffs you're like, 'Oh my God, this is the playoffs," Carr said. "When you've been there before, especially with the same guys, that gives you that added confidence to go out there. … You don't really have those jittery emotions."

The actual level of play increases as well, according to Rice.

After not making much of an impact in 2008, the Ravens' tailback carried Baltimore's offense in last year's playoffs, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns in New England, then compiling 127 total yards in Indianapolis.

"I didn't know what the playoffs were like until I got to the game and you realize how hard the hits are," Rice said. "The hits are a lot harder in the playoffs when you've got guys fighting for a ring."

Linebacker Ray Lewis, who will play his 14th postseason game Sunday, pointed to the fourth quarter as the time when playoff experience comes to light.

"Playoff experience is simply a chess match," he said. "Your first, second, third quarter, talent is doing great. But then that fourth quarter, experience and playoff knowledge on what you do in these tight situations and what you do against this or against that, that's where it all clicks in at."

Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson offered the one counter-argument to experience. He said a team that has been to the postseason so many times might not get the same energy going in as a young team that hasn't.

The Chiefs are in the postseason for the first time since 2006 and haven't hosted a game since 2003. They had just four wins last season and two the year before.

"They're just so pumped about being in the playoffs, they're going to come out and play lights out just off the energy," Johnson said.

"Experience could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing. You could go so many times that you don't get a lot of energy out of it. I think we've got a good mix."

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