Divisional Round: Baltimore Ravens At Denver Broncos
- QuarterbackJoe Flacco had an ordinary year, but he led the Ravens to a fairly convincing win over the Colts in the Wild-Card game. Flacco’s numbers were not overwhelming – he was 12-of-23 for 282 yards with two TDs and no interceptions – but he ran the offense with confidence. He’ll have to be at his best against a smart and aggressive Denver defense.The Broncos got far more than they ever could have hoped to get from Peyton Manning this season. He’s in a neck-and-neck battle with Adrian Peterson for the MVP award this season. Manning completed 68.6 percent of his passes, threw for 4,659 yards and had a 37-11 TD-to-interception ratio. While it won’t come easy against the Ravens defense, Manning should have an advantage in this game.
- OffenseThe Ravens can’t put it all on Flacco and that’s the last thing head coach John Harbaugh wants to do. While he was not at his best against the Colts, the Ravens will give the ball to Ray Rice. He is a gritty and tough competitor who can explode once he gets into the open field. Anquan Boldin can make the tough catches on third downs and tight end Dennis Pitta (7 TDs) is a solid red zone target.The Broncos got a lift from running back Knowshon Moreno once Willis McGahee went down with a knee injury. Moreno can get through the small cracks provided by the offensive line and is tough to bring down. Demaryius Thomas is a fast downfield target who has improved dramatically while playing with Manning. Decker will catch everything that comes his way.
- DefenseThe Ravens did not have the kind of consistency on defense that fans are used to seeing from them, but they were at their best in the Wild-Card win over the Colts, keeping Andrew Luck & Co. out of the endzone. The Ravens were 17th in total defense and they got a lift from the return of middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is the best tackler on the team.The Broncos are a nasty, hard-hitting and aggressive defensive team. The Broncos were second overall on defense and it’s hard to find a more effective defensive player than pass rushing linebacker Von Miller. He had 18.5 sacks during the regular season. Champ Bailey is still one of the best cover men in the league. He had 66 tackles and 11 passes defensed.
- Special TeamsThe Ravens have perhaps the best special teams play in the league. Jacoby Jones is an outstanding return specialist who can return punts and kickoffs the distance. Placekicker Justin Tucker has had a remarkable year, making 30-of-33 FG attempts, including 4-of-4 from 50 yards and beyond.The Broncos had an advantage on opponents on punt and kickoff returns. Matt Prater was solid but not spectacular as a placekicker, making 26-of-32 FG attempts. Britton Colquitt averaged 46.3 yards per punt and he dropped 27 of 67 punts inside the opponents’ 20.
The Broncos went into Baltimore in Week 15 and registered a shockingly easy 34-17 victory. While a better effort can be expected from the Ravens, the Broncos have been powerful and consistent this year. It would be difficult to see Manning losing this game when a chance to go to the AFC championship game would be his reward for winning.