The NFL Season kicks off tomorrow with the Baltimore Ravens taking on the Denver Broncos in Denver. The defending Superbowl Champs open up on the road against the team that they beat in a wild Divisional Round game in 2012. Even though the Ravens are the defending Superbowl champions they are getting no love heading into this game. Vegas has them as a 9.5 point underdog. Now I understand that the roster purge during the offseason has left many people skeptical about how the Baltimore Ravens will perform this season, but if you look at the pieces that they have managed to gather to fill those spots you see a team that actually might look a bit better than last season.
Now this game has a lot of implications for the fans. Broncos fans are fuming after the loss in the playoffs last season, and they arent too happy about the Elvis Dumervil fax shenanigans so there is a lot of bad blood here going into this game. A lot of sports writers, and I mean A LOT, have the Broncos completely dominating the Ravens at home. Their list of reasons includes things like: The Ravens lost a lot of player during the offseason, the Ravens dont have a true #1 or #2 receiver at this point, Their offense isnt going to be as potent, the list goes on really. Now I’m not saying that the Broncos are not going to give the Ravens a good game. I think this one is going to be a great way to kick open the NFL Season. I dont think that the game warrants all the predictions that the Broncos will dominate the Ravens. Let us not forget that the Broncos have issues of their own to deal with as well.
The biggest issue that the Broncos have to overcome is the loss of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rushing off the edge to get after Joe Flacco. Dumervil obviously left Denver and Von Miller is suspended 6 games this season for drug violations. Champ Bailey is also questionable for this upcoming game. He is having foot issues and might not be able to play tomorrow. He is practicing, but how will he fare with a flat tire against the Ravens speedy receivers? The Broncos defense was stellar last season. They were 2nd in the league when it came to Yards allowed per game (290.8) and 4th in the league in points allowed per game (18.1). Denver also had 52 sacks as a team last season. So their defense is known for being good. I dont know how many sacks they’re going to manage to pile up against a proven Baltimore Ravens offensive line without 29 1/2 from last year playing in this game (Dumervil and Miller’s combined sack total). With the Ravens running game being as good as it is, the matchup I am going to be keeping my eye on is the offensive and defensive line play.
If the Ravens offensive line can get the upper hand on a thinned out Broncos defensive line I think the Ravens can pound away at the Broncos, use up time, and keep Peyton Manning off of the field. If the can successfully run the ball early then I think that the Broncos secondary will open up later in the game for plays down field. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce make up for an electrifying tandem in the backfield. Plus the Ravens brought back Vonta Leach to lead the blocking.
Joe Flacco has to manage this game and not let Peyton Manning do that. He has to dictate the tempo of the game by keeping his team on the field and making big throws when they are there. Torrey Smith is going to be double covered all night and Flacco is going to have to find him when he’s open or in single coverage. Flacco is also going to have to find someone else. When Smith is double covered that means there is one less player in coverage to cover his other receivers.
If there is going to be one thing that absolutely kills the Ravens in this game it is going to be the play of the secondary. I think that secondary still needs a lot of work. They had communication breakdowns all preseason and really need to work on their communication and who they’re covering. Ledarius Webb will be fine. Im not worried about him. His knee is better and he looks fantastic. Its Jimmy Smith and whoever is playing the strong safety position that I am most worried about. Elam, a rookie has looked really good during the preseason, and Ihedigbo raises some questions about how well he can handle the starting role. Jimmy Smith just doesnt look like the player the Ravens hoped he was going to be. He is going to really have to step up seeing as the Broncos have 3 receivers (yup….3) that racked up over 1000 yards last season.
Despite having a good running game last season I dont expect the Denver Broncos to do much running against the Ravens. The Ravens front 7 is as good, I think, any in the NFL. The defensive line is big and mean (even if Art Jones is going to be out) and the Linebackers are going to be making a lot of big plays. Daryl Smith is filling in for Ray Lewis wonderfully, Suggs and Dumervil are proven weapons, and Arthur Brown and Courtney Upshaw have a lot of potential. Now I’m not sure how much the Broncos are going to come out and run the ball, but I think that the Ravens can handle whatever is thrown at them in that regards.
Overall I think this game is going to be fantastic. I doubt it is going to be a blowout on either end. The Broncos have a chip on their shoulder from last season’s loss in the playoffs and the Ravens are the defending Superbowl champions that everyone is writing off early in the season. They have a lot to play for too. This one is going to be for pride and this one is going to be hard hitting and physical. When the dust settles and the clock hits 0:00 I think the final score will read 27-24 Ravens with another Cool Joe Flacco final drive to win.