For the third time in less than a year, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos Thursday night to open the 2013 NFL season.
Last season the two teams split a game apiece, however, Baltimore won the one that mattered in an overtime postseason thriller 38-35 at Mile High.
The Ravens went on to win Super Bowl XLVII to send Ray Lewis into the sunlight. Meanwhile, the Broncos were left with the sour taste of a misjudged interception that turned into six points for Baltimore.
Now the two square off once again, but some things changed this offseason. And to see how those changes will impact Week 1’s colossal matchup, let’s breakdown the Ravens and Broncos’ season opener.
Broncos Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed there to slow down Peyton Manning, this is a solid matchup.
Denver isn’t a run-oriented offense, so Baltimore can obviously expect a more aggressive attack. One difference with the Broncos’ one-dimensional approach, though, is the presence of Wes Welker.
The Ravens remain solid up front with Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw and some new faces in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and Daryl Smith. That said, Lardarius Webb is the best proven secondary player to slow down the pass. And with Welker cutting through everywhere underneath, that will leave Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in favorable one-on-one situations.
As a result, Manning will be able to throw it to every level to then set up the run. Although Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball aren’t yet established backs, each provide the ability to run downhill and keep Baltimore honest.
If anything, the Ravens must get physical in man press coverage and blitz relentlessly. Pressure on Manning is required, as well as stopping the run to win on third down and in short yard situations.
Start Manning, Welker and Thomas. Only start Baltimore if you’re in league that starts two defenses or if your backup defense has a more unfavorable matchup. As for leagues with individual defensive players, Suggs and Webb are safe starts.
Ravens Offense vs. Broncos Defense
Although Baltimore was able to exploit Champ Bailey in the playoff matchup, the veteran cornerback is out for the Week 1 affair according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:
The Denver Broncos will start the regular season without Champ Bailey.
The veteran cornerback has been ruled out for the Thursday night season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, the Broncos confirmed Wednesday.
So, the Broncos have to face the defending Super Bowl champions and their MVP quarterback Joe Flacco without a key component. Even worse, star pass-rusher Von Miller was suspended six games per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport via Gregg Rosenthal in August:
The NFL suspended Von Miller on Tuesday for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Citing a person informed of the negotiations, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday’s edition of NFL Network’s “NFL Total Access” that the league initially sought an eight-game suspension for Miller but settled on six.
On the bright side, Denver does have Shaun Phillips and Terrance Knighton to make plays up front, as well as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner. Still, anticipate the Ravens attacking downfield to stretch the Broncos. Anquan Boldin may be gone, but Flacco’s strong arm remains a threat just like the speed of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
Mix in some Ray Rice and Baltimore will move the rock with sound efficiency. The determining factor will be whether Denver is able to apply pressure and win on third down.
Start Flacco, Rice and Smith. Only start Denver if you’re in a league that starts two defenses or if your backup defense has a more unfavorable matchup. As for leagues with individual defensive players, Phillips and Rodgers-Cromartie are safe starts.
The return game is virtually even between Jacoby Jones and Trindon Holliday. Each supply the acceleration, top gear and vision to burst through lanes and change the field position.
As for the kicking game, Matt Prater has proven he can knock them in from long range and the same can be said for Justin Tucker. For as obvious as it sounds, the only advantage here lies in the kicker who connects when his opportunity arises.
Both kickers are great starts here. In an expected high-scoring contest, Prater and Tucker are safe and reliable starts.
Expect a rather high-scoring contest.
The postseason matchup was an electrifying game and the regular season affair in 2012 had some big plays as well. The defenses must constantly be on the attack to disrupt timing.
Baltimore has the edge here since Miller is out for Denver, but Phillips is just as capable of getting to Flacco as well. In a game that will feature big plays, though, the more experienced secondary has the slight advantage.
Denver will put the game away as the second half progresses.
Broncos 35, Ravens 27
Spread courtesy of FootballLocks.com: Denver -7.5
Follow John on Twitter @Rozum27