As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Denver Broncos have home-field advantage throughout the 2013 NFL playoffs, which is bad news for everyone. Quarterback Peyton Manning, in his first season with the Broncos, has 5,389 career postseason passing yards, the third-most in NFL history behind only Brett Favre (5,855) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana (5,772).
“I’m glad I’m the head coach of Peyton Manning, to be quite honest with you,” said Broncos’ head coach John Fox. “He’s a tremendous player. When he became available, he was obviously a guy that we put sights on as I’m sure that a lot of people did that were looking for a quarterback. It’s highly unusual that a guy like that’s on the open market and we feel very blessed that he chose us.”
The Ravens advanced to the Divisional Round with a 24-9 pounding win over the Indianapolis Colts last week. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts and is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.
“We’re looking forward to this,” said Ravens’ wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who had 145 receiving yards in the second half, the most in the second half a postseason game since Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIII (157). “I was hoping we’d get Denver again. This time we’ll make it different.”
Baltimore absolutely must keep Peyton Manning off the field and play with discipline defensively.
The Ravens need to sustain long drives with their ground game, which will be challenging as the Broncos are tough against the run. A balance of running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce would be the factor for the Ravens as they are small enough to move between the tackles to get decent gains. The team must also be successful in the red zone because field goals won’t cut it against a high-powered, Manning-led offense.
“Ray’s exceptional. Really strong player, he’s good in all the different phases you want a back to be good in,” said Broncos’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “He can run, he can pass protect. He certainly can catch the ball and hurt you in the passing game, whether it be screens or wheel routes, things like that. He’s a good football player.”
Baltimore’s offense must be productive so the defense won’t be on the field for another 38:34 minutes, which was the time of possession for the Broncos in their last meeting.
The Ravens will be aggressive again, which they must in order to stop Peyton, as they will bring blitzes from all angles of the field. Clearly, Baltimore is going up against a better signal caller in Manning this week.
What’s troubling about Baltimore is its secondary. The Ravens have been torched against the pass for the majority of the regular season as they lacked discipline in coverage and lost key one-on-one matchups in critical times.
If they can win the one-on-one matchups and cover the Broncos pass catchers, the Ravens’ front seven and blitz package will be successful against the Denver’s dynamic offense.
This breakdown is the formula to beat the Broncos and the Ravens will play with the passion and aggressiveness with their leader in Lewis in the lineup as he will have everyone in position defensively.
Moreover, it’s easier said than done because the Broncos are a complete team.
For the first time in Manning’s career, during the postseason, he will be surrounded with pure talent (on both sides of the ball) and he does not have to be the one to win the game.
Running back Knowshon Moreno diced the Ravens’ D for 115 yards and a score on 21 carries last time. He will be the true testament towards a Broncos’ victory because if he is able to dump-truck the Ravens’ defense again, Manning will play-action Baltimore to death.
Football fans, especially in Baltimore, would love to see Lewis finish as a Super Bowl champion, but the Broncos will end the love-fest late Saturday evening as they will overwhelm Baltimore on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos will constantly pressure quarterback Joe Flacco, limit his throwing option due to CB Champ Bailey’s ability to shutdown half a field and Manning attacking the Ravens’ defense with his talented offense.
“I’m not really concerned with that any more,” said Del Rio. “That was then. We’re really just trying to do all we can to put together a good plan to slow them down Saturday, to give our football team a chance to win. Everything we’re about is trying to play complementary football. We want to get the ball back for our offense any way we can, whether it be forcing a turnover or getting off on third down. If we do that well enough to score more than them, we’ll have fun on Saturday.”
Prediction: Broncos 24, Ravens 13