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NFL Playoffs Preview: Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos

After sending the Colts home last week the Ravens look to keep their good play going against the hottest (and maybe best) team in the NFL.  The Broncos have won 11 straight games and have been clicking on all cylinders.  The Broncos boast the NFL’s 3rd best defense and the 2nd best scoring offense.  Peyton Manning has transformed his group into a true title contender that the Ravens are going to be hard pressed to slow down without playing a great game themselves.

Key Matchup: Ray Rice vs. Denver Defense.  If the Ravens are going to win this game they need to control the ball.  Rice has had a mediocre year by his standards, but he is still one of the best running backs in the NFL and he plays the one position that the Ravens outmatch the Broncos in.  Rice needs to have a big day because the Raven defense isn’t going to stop Peyton Manning; so the longer he’s on the sidelines the better.  Likewise, if Rice is running the ball effectively it may open up some big play opportunities for Boldin and Smith.  If the Broncos shut down Rice and Flacco has to throw the ball all around the field, the Ravens can’t win.  Rice must have a big day.

Injury Report: Like most teams at this time of year the Ravens are nicked up all over the place.  Luckily, though, it looks like most of the key players will start on Saturday.  The only players likely to not start are Vonta Leach and Bernard Peirce.  Danelle Ellerby (who has been the unsung leader of this defense) is questionable and will be a game time decision.  The Broncos will be without Willis McGahee for sure, even though he returned to practice this week.  The question mark is Tracy Porter.  The star cornerback is still ailing from a concussion and hasn’t been cleared to play yet.  All in all, both teams have to be somewhat satisfied with where they stand injury-wise.

Player to Watch: Joe Flacco.  I have been an outspoken doubter of Flacco, but he’s going to have his chance to prove me (and many others) wrong this weekend.  I don’t think Ray Rice is going to have a huge day.  He is only averaging a bit over 70 yards per game and this isn’t your average defense.  That means the burden of keeping up with the high scoring Broncos will fall on the shoulders of Joe Flacco.  Can he step up and into that elite class that many think he belongs in?  I doubt it, but we’ll see.

My Prediction: Ravens 17 Broncos 31.  I don’t think this is going to be that close of a game.  The Broncos are just too strong for the Ravens on both sides of the ball.  In the playoffs it almost always comes down to the battle of the superior QBs and this one isn’t even close.  The cold weather could affect Manning a little bit, but I think he’s just too good to not put up big numbers on this struggling Raven defense.


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