It’s finally here.
Nearly eight months ago, the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens engaged in an epic NFL battle, one that lasted two overtimes and ended in heartbreak for the hometown team.
Had it not been for the outcome, this game would have gone down as arguably the greatest and most exciting the NFL has seen in decades. But, we all know the story. The Ravens kicked a field goal in the second overtime period to propel them to the AFC Championship game, where they defeated the New England Patriots (also on the road), and eventually hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
Essentially, the Ravens did last year what every Denver Broncos fan thought their team would do when they leap-frogged everybody for the first overall seed in the AFC and appeared to be the most dominant team in the league.
We could talk all day and night about how Denver had that game won, but today it doesn’t matter. Tonight, it doesn’t matter.
The Broncos and Ravens are a different kind of 0-0 on Thursday night, not representing the only option being to win or go home, but representing new beginnings.
Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Anquan Boldin are all gone for the Baltimore Ravens. Star tight end Dennis Pitta is injured. All of those players have been replaced and have left the Ravens with serious question marks defensively.
For the Broncos, there will be no more Elvis Dumervil (he’ll be in purple and black), and at least for this game, there will be no Champ Bailey or Von Miller.
Needless to say, this game is going to feature a Broncos team picking up where it left off with unfinished business in 2013 and a Ravens team looking to prove their Super Bowl run was not a fluke, but both teams are going to be very, very different.
The Ravens have added the likes of Elvis Dumervil, former Raiders first round pick Michael Huff, and ex-Broncos slot machine Brandon Stokley.
The Broncos have added some fire power of their own, making a big splash in free agency when they picked up former Patriots legend Wes Welker to man the slot position. They also reeled in the likes of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
Any time you lose a guy like a Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Von Miller, or Champ Bailey, your defense is going to take a significant step back. Those guys are either legends or have legendary talent (in the case of Miller), and for varying reasons, all will be absent from a matchup that created one of the most memorable (or forgettable) NFL games in recent history.
Sports Authority Field at Mile High is going to be rocking, make no mistake about it.
The NFL has plastered Joe Flacco’s likeness all over town, including a massive poster of the rival QB on the front of the team’s HOUSE. As if the bitter taste in our mouths from the end of last season weren’t enough, the league decided to ramp up the hate for the Ravens even more.
It’s not like the Broncos and Ravens are huge rivals, but after Denver’s playoff exit and Elvis Dumervil heading to Baltimore, there is a bit of an extra chip on the shoulder of Broncos fans, who are eager to get the season started off right and get that taste out of their mouths.
Fans will paint the country orange tomorrow as the Broncos take the field for the first time in eight long months in a meaningful game, a game in which all fans have huge expectations, even with Denver’s absences defensively.
As I have said to the doubters all offseason long–As long as #18 is on the field, you better believe my confidence is sky high.
That’s the beauty of having an elite quarterback with eight months to prepare, eight months to dissect, and most importantly–eight months to get healthier, stronger, and more tight with his teammates.
With Peyton Manning on the field, the Broncos and their fans have no fear whatsoever. Of course, Manning’s track record isn’t the greatest in the playoffs, but the 37-year old has proven he can take a team to and win a Super Bowl.
That’s the hope the Broncos and their eager fans are clinging to. The up-tempo, high octane offense is something everyone around the league has high expectations for, and I absolutely can’t wait to see it in action.
The Broncos’ young defense and high flying offense are going to have to learn from the mistakes that the 2012 team made against the Ravens in the playoffs, missed opportunities and mental errors that led to a colossal loss.
If this team plays up to what it is capable of in game one, expectations will be soaring. This Broncos team is quite probably the best team the city has had since John Elway led his team to a Super Bowl win against the Falcons, and this game is just the beginning.