When the Denver Broncos acquired Peyton Manning there was certainly much hoopla that surrounded the situation. The grand question was if Manning, coming off neck surgery, was going to be able to make it through a full season healthy. Even then, was his arm going to be strong enough to make an impact for his team? Peyton proved to his doubters and even surprised some of his believers with an MVP type year. Perhaps he doesn’t have the same zip on the ball he used to, but his pin-point accurate ball is better than ever. The Broncos enter this game on an 11 game winning streak, their last loss coming in week 5 to the New England Patriots on the road. Their only loss at home came in week 3 against a fast starting Houston Texans team. The Broncos ultimately finished 13-3 on the year, first in the AFC West. Their efforts earned themselves a first round bye, and the right to play the Baltimore Ravens at home on Divisional weekend. The Ravens had themselves a roller coaster ride of a year. It appeared that early on in the season that the Ravens were going to be able to coast and have a great shot at capturing the number 1 seed in the AFC. Needless to say the Ravens hit a bump near the tail end of the season. They finished 2-4 in their last six games.
Part of the Ravens’ problems comes down to defense. They were without their emotional leader, Ray Lewis, for the entire season. The injury to Lewis and other vital pieces of the Ravens’ defense played a role in what transpired this year. They were nearly unrecognizable, as they were getting gashed with great regularity. The most surprising aspect of the Ravens’ defense came at the expense of their run defense. For over 10 years now, the Ravens’ ability to stop the run was as stout as they came. 100 yard rushers were unheard in this time. However, now it has become a chore to hold opposing team in check at that line. Massive holes and missed assignments have been the norm with this group. The Ravens’ defense ranked among the leagues worst for the majority of the season. They stepped it up late and eventually finished 16th, allowing 350.9 yards per game. They looked excellent at home last week, limiting the Colts’ offense to only 9 points and 419 yards. Andrew Luck was sitting on his back side more than he was on his feet. The Colts offensive line allowed sacks with great consistency throughout the year, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do against a much better front.
The Ravens’ defense should have a fun time trying to contain the Broncos’ attack. With Manning under center, the offense has eclipsed into one of the most dangerous in the NFL. He quickly made people forget about the offseason neck issues, and focus on his ability on the football field. He certainly did that, passing for 4659 yards, 37 touchdowns, with a 105.8 QB rating. Manning has an excellent history against the Ravens, even when they were at their best, so they are nothing new to him. Manning led the Broncos to 397.9 yards per game for 4th in the league. They also scored 30.1 points a game. Running back Knowshon Moreno has been a little bit of a pleasant surprise for the Broncos since went on the IR. The presence of Manning has definitely opened up some wiggle room for the Broncos’ ground game which is 16th in the NFL. Not spectacular, but when McGahee went down it was expected the running game was going to crumble.
The Broncos’ defense is another bright spot. The defense or offense doesn’t necessarily carry one or the other; the Broncos are a complete team. Both units provide an excellent foundation that provide ample support. The defense often gets overlooked in lieu of Manning, but they are fairly good themselves. They rank 2nd in the NFL with regards to total team defense, 3rd against the pass, and 3rd against the run. The Broncos are without a doubt the most underrated defense in the league. I am not sure many people would have guessed that they were 2nd best in the league without looking at the numbers.
Similar to their season, the Ravens’ offense is icy-hot. The offense goes with Joe Flacco and falls with Joe Flacco. Unfortunately, the offense has been falling too much under his watch. With the weapons situated around him, there is no reason why the Ravens can’t have a dominant offense. There is an above average offensive line, running back, and receiving core. It is up to Flacco to produce, and he hasn’t turned into an elite quarterback by any stretch of the imagination. The offense is 16th in the NFL, the exact same figure as their defense.
Ravens vs. Broncos Spread and Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens +9.5 (-105)
@ Denver Broncos -9.5 (-115)
Over 45.5 (-110)
Under 45.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Ravens vs. Broncos Pick:
I think some people don’t realize how good the Broncos are, especially defensively. The Broncos don’t quite bring the same reputation a team like the Steelers or even Ravens does in the eyes of the public. Nevertheless, the Broncos possess an elite defense to go along with a stellar offense. The Ravens on the other hand I think are still one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. Yeah, sure, they fisted off of an inexperienced offensive line last week, but I think things may be a little more difficult against the Broncos front.
Playing in Denver is never an easy experience, and it doesn’t help the Ravens that Flacco is not a quarterback that performs well on the road. The Broncos have averaged 32 points a game at home while only allowing 16. Even though the Ravens defense had no problem containing Andrew Luck and the Colts last week, the Broncos are quite simply a different animal. The Broncos are 11-0 their last eleven games and 4-1 ATS last five. Also, as I alluded to earlier, Manning loves playing the Ravens, as he is 9-0 in his career against them. While taking points with the Ravens certainly looks enticing, I’m not going to take the books bait, I’ll take the Broncos.
PICK = Broncos -9.5