When the Broncos and Ravens first met back in Week 15 the Broncos asserted their dominance, winning their 9th straight game on their way to earning the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens continued slumping, losing their 3rd consecutive game in the midst of losing four of their final five heading into the playoffs.
The Ravens will get their chance at redemption, and more importantly a chance to reach the AFC championship game, on Saturday when they travel to Denver for the divisional round of the playoffs.
In that first meeting, the key play of the game was a pick six thrown by Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco into the hands of Denver cornerback Chris Harris late in the 2nd quarter. The Ravens looked poised to cut Denver’s lead to 10-7 heading into halftime, but instead Harris gave the Broncos a 17-0 lead at the break. In the second half, the Broncos controlled the clock and held onto their lead without any problems. Neither team played their best football that day, but the Broncos returned home with a relatively easy victory.
That was the first meeting, but with both teams hoping to play their best game on Saturday and with a spot in the AFC championship game on the line, how do the Broncos and Ravens match up with each other?
BRONCOS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS DEFENSE
The Denver offense is a difficult matchup for just about any defense. Peyton Manning has had an MVP-caliber season and he has developed good chemistry with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker over the course of the year. Outside of safety Ed Reed, the Ravens have a rather mediocre secondary, and they may have difficulty matching up not only with Thomas and Decker, but also with slot receiver Brandon Stokley and Denver’s tight ends.
If the Ravens are able to slow down Denver’s running game -- or get takeaways against the sometimes turnover-prone Knowshon Moreno -- and force the Broncos to abandon the running game, they will take away Manning’s ability to work from play action, which is where he does his best work. But if Denver is able to have balance on offense, then the Ravens will have their hands full all day trying to stop them.
RAVENSE OFFENSE VS. BRONCOS DEFENSE
In this game, the best defense for the Ravens may actually be a good offense. Baltimore leaned heavily on running back Ray Rice last week, and they might have to do it again this week. If there’s a weakness in Denver’s defense it could be their rush defense, and if the Ravens can get Rice going it would be their best chance to not only put points on the board, but also to control the clock and keep Manning and the Denver offense off the field. Even if Rice doesn’t run wild against the Broncos, the Ravens will still need him to give them steady production in order to stay ahead of the chains.
The Denver pass rush, led by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, is perhaps the best in the NFL, and if the Ravens find themselves in obvious passing situations, Flacco could be in serious trouble. With Flacco not being ready to get in a shootout with Manning, and the Broncos possessing a fearsome pass rush, the Ravens will have no choice but to run the ball effectively. If they can’t, then the Broncos defense will have a big advantage in this matchup
At this point in the season, it’s hard to write anybody off before the game even starts, but that’s just about the case with the Ravens. Denver would have to play a well below average game for Baltimore to have a legitimate chance to win on the road. Right now, the Broncos are clicking on all cylinders, and if they didn’t show any signs of letting up the last two weeks of the season against bad teams, they won’t be letting up now. With the Mile High crowd fired up, the Broncos will take the lead early and never relinquish it: Denver 34, Baltimore 13.