The Denver Broncos will host the Baltimore Ravens in a Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, January 12 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Denver earned a bye along with home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the privilege of watching the Wild Card games on television. Their reward is a home matchup against a team coming off an emotional victory that will only get six days rest.
Thanks to a Houston Texans win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Ravens win over the Indianapolis Colts, the top 4 seeds in the AFC are all that remain. The division champions will battle it out over the next two weekends for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore entered the playoffs as the #4 seed with a final record of 10-6, but they struggled down the stretch losing 4 of their final 5 games. As AFC North Champions they got home field advantage in their first round game against the Colts and they took advantage of it at a raucous M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens were bolstered by the news it would be Ray Lewis’ final home game after an illustrious 17-year career. He will be retiring once the Baltimore playoff run ends.
The Ravens wore down Indianapolis and won by a final score of 24-9, but that score is a little deceiving. The Colts ended up with more first downs (25 – 18), nearly the same amount of total yards (419 – 441), and they dominated the time of possession battle (37:32 – 22:28). Indianapolis hung in there and hurt themselves by settling for field goals and turning the ball over.
Nevertheless, the home crowd got to celebrate a victory for Ray Lewis as the clock wound down, and they know they’ll get to see him wear a Ravens uniform at least one more time. Hopefully his retirement will officially begin by riding off into the Rocky Mountain sunset next Saturday.
Here are some thoughts on the matchup against the Baltimore Ravens:
- If you watched their game against the Colts, it’s obvious that Baltimore is suspect both offensively and defensively. They finished the regular season ranked 16th in total offense and 17th in total defense; completely average on both sides of the ball. In comparison the Broncos finished ranked 4th in offense and 2nd on defense.
- The one area where Baltimore dominated the stat sheet is on kickoff returns. They had the 2nd most kickoff return yards in the league and big plays on special teams were a huge reason they got to 10 wins. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they will almost certainly have to settle for a touchback on every kickoff they receive in the thin mile high air.
- The Ravens benefitted from a spark of emotion thanks to the Ray Lewis retirement news, but there is a chance that may catch up to them in Denver. They have to travel on a short week and will not have the luxury of a home crowd behind them. Emotional victories have a way of sapping a team’s energy the following week. It would not be a shock to see Baltimore come out flat early in the game against the Broncos. It will be important for Denver to start fast and punch the Ravens in the mouth before they can find their legs.
- The Colts ran 87 plays yesterday. EIGHTY SEVEN. It doesn’t matter who you are, playing in Denver after that many snaps is going to have a big effect on your defensive players. You better believe that Peyton Manning and the Broncos coaches are fully aware of that. They will be running the no-huddle offense early and often.
- The temperature in Denver on Saturday is supposed to be less than 30 degrees with a chance of snow flurries. That may slow the Denver offensive machine down slightly, but Manning played well in chilly conditions late in the regular season. Since the forecast isn’t calling for much wind the Broncos offense should continue to put up big numbers.
- Joe Flacco completed only 12 of 23 passes yesterday. Granted, those 12 throws went for big yardage, but at least 3 of them were “close your eyes and chuck it as far as you can” type throws. His final stat line looks decent but that was not a pretty effort by Flacco, and he did that against the 21st ranked Indianapolis pass defense. He will have a much tougher time finding space against the Broncos 3rd ranked pass-defense unit. Look for Chris Harris, Champ Bailey, and Tony Carter to repeat their solid effort against Baltimore earlier in the year when they held Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin to a single catch combined.
- One could go on and on citing statistics when providing an argument for why Denver should win this game. But at the end of the day the Broncos are simply a better football team than the Ravens. Peyton Manning should dissect the Baltimore secondary and keep the front seven on their heels. In their previous meeting, Denver rushed for 163 yards and dominated the game on the ground. They should have success once again with Manning leading the way in the friendly confines of Mile High. If the Broncos can take advantage of some fatigue on the Baltimore defense, there is a good chance they can get a lead early on. That’s when the playmakers on defense can make a difference. Look for Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to make life difficult for Flacco, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Broncos celebrating another defensive touchdown at some point. If Denver protects the football, plays their style of game, and lets the crowd get into it early, then there is no reason the result shouldn’t be very similar to the Denver victory in the regular season meeting between these teams.
- Final prediction: There is no scenario out there where this Ravens offense comes into Mile High and scores more than 20 points. That’s a problem because they are going to need at least 30 to win this ball game. Denver will prove to be too much on both sides of the ball especially with the Mile High crowd going crazy. Broncos dominate, 31-13.
- Mile High Stadium will be rocking like never before. A win on Saturday will propel the Broncos to a home AFC Championship Game and a chance for their 7th Super Bowl appearance. Go Broncos!