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Indy needs playoff newcomers to get past Ravens

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Indy needs playoff newcomers to get past Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The playoffs can't start soon enough for Donnie Avery.

Five years after being the first receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft, he will finally make his postseason debut at Baltimore.

It's about time.

``It's great, it's like starting the season all over again,'' the Colts receiver said Friday with a smile. ``It's got my juices flowing again.''

The veterans who have been there before will explain this is the way the playoffs are - exciting and nerve-racking all the same time.

And this week, at least, Avery isn't the only one in the Colts' locker room going through this experience for the first time. Of the 53 players on this year's roster, 28 have never played in an NFL playoff game.

Perhaps that should be expected from a team that has relied on rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, piled up more combined rushing and receiving yards by rookies than any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and endured the most thorough housecleaning project of any team in the league after last years' 2-14 debacle. More than a half-dozen key players from the Colts' 2009 Super Bowl team, including Peyton Manning, were let go.

But the truth is only nine rookies are on that first-timer list as the surprising Colts (11-5) visit AFC North champion Baltimore (10-6) in Sunday's wild-card round game.

The other names include linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who had a team-high 203 tackles after arriving from Canada; Cassius Vaughn, who spent the last two seasons in Denver but didn't get to play in either of the Broncos' postseason games last year; and cornerback Vontae Davis, the reigning AFC defensive player of the week who spent his first three years in Miami.

``It's a special moment. I've never been to the playoffs being in Miami. My brother, Vernon Davis of San Francisco, he went to this first playoffs last year. He said it's a great feeling, a great experience,'' Vontae Davis said. ``I asked him for any tips and he just said `play harder.'''

If Davis or the others have additional questions, they won't have to look too far.

Outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, safety Antoine Bethea, kicker Adam Vinatieri and receiver Reggie Wayne all own Super Bowl rings. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and backup running back Mewelde Moore have rings, too. Coach Chuck Pagano and most of those ex-Ravens he brought along have been to the playoffs multiple times as well, and their advice is simple.

``It's another week, we know the stakes are higher,'' Pagano said. ``We know the energy is higher but don't get caught up in all that stuff. Do what you've been doing.''

What the Colts have done best during this remarkable season is find ways to win.

Behind Luck, they have a league-high nine wins in one-possession games. Luck also tied the NFL record by directing seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, and even when the No. 1 overall draft pick hasn't played his best, they've still come up with big plays - Wayne's stretching score to beat Green Bay, Vick Ballard's twisting dive to beat Tennessee, Deji Karim's 101-yard kickoff return to flip last Sunday's game against Houston.

The Colts don't want to change that part of it now.

``I think we've done a lot to get to this point, so I don't think you need to wholesale change things,'' Luck said. ``Obviously, intensity is going to ratchet up, things are going to kick up a notch but trust in the same preparation, in the same process and hopefully that'll pay dividends.''

That won't be the only reward.

Wayne acknowledged Friday he has talked to the playoff newbies about everything from the Colts midnight move to the reaction they can expect when they return to their former hometown to the need to avoid throwing at 2004 defensive player of the year Ed Reed.

It was something else that really go the players attention, though.

``We tell them the more you play in the playoffs, the more checks you get. You see guys' eyes light up,'' Wayne said. ``They say, `Really, there's more money?' The guys I think are very excited. I don't think it will be too big for them, it hasn't been all year.''

Certainly not for Luck, who has been breaking league and franchise records all season.

He heads into this weekend carrying a streak of 105 consecutive passes without an interception, his longest all season. And though things have traditionally not gone well for rookies in the playoffs, Luck is confident his big-game experience at Stanford and his unflappable approach will work in his favor Sunday.

Joe Flacco, who has made the playoffs in all five of his NFL seasons agrees.

``My advice would be, go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It's obviously gotten you to the point that you're in the playoffs and playing to get to another week,'' the Ravens quarterback said. ``If it got you that far, then you're obviously doing something right so you should try to continue that. You shouldn't try anything crazy just because it's playoff time.''

Instead, the Colts intend to follow the same tack they've taken all season and not worry about all those other things that come into play when you're making a playoff debut.

``Sometimes, I think it's better not to know,'' said backup quarterback Drew Stanton, a six-year veteran who has not taken a snap in the postseason but did play in three games on Detroit's 0-16 team. ``I think it (the playoffs) have been kind of infectious around here, there's kind of an obligation to this team and this city to put your best foot forward. That's what we want to do.''

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The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Baltimore Ravens made it clear after their Wild Card loss that Lamar Jackson would be their quarterback going forward, bringing the somewhat official end to Joe Flacco's 11-year career with the team.

So what's next for the Super Bowl MVP?

Retirement after a fruitful NFL career is an option, but in a league where teams are desperate for a seasoned veteran, Flacco could find himself with another affluent contract. The Ravens, too, could get something nice in return.

"Let's start with a second-round pick," former Redskins GM Charley Casserly said. "It's negotiable, we're going to keep him in pencil. Who am I not going to trade him to? Well, I may not have a choice. I may only have one trade pick. I don't want him in the AFC. I don't want this guy costing me a playoff position next year."

There are several AFC teams in need of a QB, too. The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars would jump at the chance to get Flacco under center.

But it may not be that easy for the Ravens.

"If the team wants to renegotiate his contract, Flacco controls the trade," Casserly adds. "He can simply say, 'no' [and the] Ravens may have to just release him and let Joe go his own way." 

The former GM adds that he expects something to be settled come March. Why? Casserly places Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles as hotter free agency pickups for QB needy teams, and with the 2019 NFL Draft not offering a ton in terms of first-round quarterbacks, the Ravens may have to act fast in order to get a return on their investment. 

One team that is definitely in need of a QB1 is the Washington Redskins. The idea could interest Flacco as his family of seven could stay put in the DMV area. But can the Redskins afford Flacco? 

The team is facing a huge cap charge with Alex Smith, whose career is in question after suffering a catastrophic leg injury, and a rookie they can mold could make more sense than a 34-year-old Flacco.

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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