With the wild card round of the NFL playoffs done, we move now to the big boys of the league. For the first time, the top four teams in the league will hit the field and prove that they meet that definition by more than just their record. First up, the Saturday after noon game between the top seeded Denver Broncos and the visiting 4th seed, the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens (4) @ Denver Broncos (1)
With Baltimore fresh off of an emotional win in what is to be the final home appearance for Ray Lewis, the Ravens come to the mile high city as a four point road dog. After a 34-17 curb stomping in front of the home crowd just over three weeks ago, you’d think the spread would be a little more. But the playoffs are a completely different animal; as is the Ravens defense with their team captain back on the field.
Last week the Ravens defense made the big play almost every time they had to. They got off the field on long third down situations and they caused two turnovers. To sneak out a win in Denver, which is one of the best home field advantage venues in the league, Baltimore will have to concoct a similar formula.
On offense, the Ravens need to run the ball like they’ve never done before. Ray Rice needs to have a big game, as any time you play against Peyton Manning, the goal is to win the time of possession battle and that all begins with Rice. Coming out of the gate and trying to air it out with Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin like they did against the Colts wont be so easy, as Denver was third best in the league against the pass.
With the second ranked defense overall in the league, Denver did so with a multitude of varieties. They can stop the run, they can defend the pass and they can sure as hell rush the passer. Allowing just under 91 yards per game to opposing offenses on the ground, stopping Ray Rice is essential to getting off of the field on third down. This will get the Ravens offense into trying to throw the ball deep, thus allowing Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to go quarterback hunting as they have all season long.
On offense, this will be the toughest defense the Broncos have faced since their week three loss to the Houston Texans. If there is any detraction’s from the Broncos eleven game winning streak, it has been the relatively soft schedule. It’s tough to be known as a world beater when you seem to play the Chargers, Chiefs or Raiders every single week. However, in their defense, they have beaten those teams soundly and you can only play who is in front of you.
The criticism that the Broncos have gotten handled by the elite teams this year holds some merit. Houston, New England and Atlanta account for all three of the Broncos losses. The defenders say that was before Peyton was back to one hundred percent while the skeptics say how convenient. Then there are the playoff demons that seem to haunt Manning. For all of his achievements and accolades, the fact remains that he holds a mediocre nine win and ten loss record in the NFL postseason. Don’t think that won’t be in his mind in his first playoff game in two years this Saturday.
Personally, I’m excited to see what Denver does against a seemingly rejuvenated Ravens defense in a competitive environment. The team was in shambles and in a transition when they met about a month ago. I’m over watching the Broncos rough up the bottom feeders of the league and pretty pumped to see what they can do when they actually work hard.
As much as I like the Ravens “look” the past two weeks, I don’t think they’re two touchdown’s better than they were at home two weeks ago and I’m not buying Joe Flacco against that pass rush. I think it’ll be a defensive struggle for the first half, but Denver takes care of home field in the second and forces Flacco into trying to do too much, thus making mistakes.
Broncos 23 Ravens 14
Tagged with: AFC, AFC Divisional Playoff, AFC North, AFC West, Anquan Boldin, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Elvis Dumervil, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Joe Flacco, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, NFL playoffs, Oakland Raiders, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, San Diego Chargers, Von Miller