Divisional Predictions: Ravens vs. Broncos
Pencils down. Turn in your picks.
Now who out there sees the Ravens winning in Denver?
I'm not hearing much … Anyone? Anyone?
Of the 36 experts below, only four are taking Baltimore.
Baltimore Sun: 6 of 7 pick Broncos
Jeff Zrebiec (Broncos 27, Ravens 13): "The Ravens thrive in these situations — heavy underdogs, lot on line, plenty of emotion. But this is too much to ask. The Broncos are probably the most well-rounded team left in the playoffs and they present matchup problems everywhere for the Ravens."
Aaron Wilson (Broncos 27, Ravens 23): "Ravens close gap from first meeting, still unable to block Von Miller, contain Peyton Manning."
Peter Schmuck (Broncos 23, Ravens 20): "The oddsmakers say it won't be close, but what do they know? All they have are a bunch of computers to analyze this stuff 24/7. The Ravens will be much more competitive than they were in the game at M&T Bank Stadium because the defense is relatively healthy this time."
ESPN.com: 11 of 12 pick the Broncos (Mike Golic with the Ravens)
Yahoo! Sports: 3 of 3 pick the Broncos
SI.com (Peter King): Broncos 27, Ravens 20
"Love the Baltimore shakeup on the offensive line, re-inserting a newly motivated (at least for now) Bryant McKinnie at left tackle; he played a dominant game against the Colts, keeping Joe Flacco free of Dwight Freeney, and I don't doubt he'll play very competitively against Elvis Dumervil here. But this is Peyton Manning we're talking about, Manning [is] on a mission with the kind of skill players that match his best days in Indianapolis. And it's Manning with a nine-game win streak against the Ravens (including playoffs). He's won those nine by an average of 14 points per game. I understand the emotion of playing for Ray Lewis, but unless the Ravens force three or more turnovers (and that's possible, if last week's effort is any indication), I don't see them holding Manning down."
NFL.com (Elliot Harrison): Broncos 30, Ravens 20
"Can the Baltimore Ravens stop the run? That's the question in my head for this divisional-round opener. Teams have gotten a tremendous amount of movement on Baltimore's front seven -- with or without Ray Lewis -- so you should expect Peyton Manning to audible to more running plays than usual. The Denver Broncos have averaged more than 148 rushing yards per game in their last four outings, with six touchdowns on the ground. The other concern for the underdog Ravens is their dependence on the home run. Joe Flacco hit a few long balls on Wild Card Weekend, but the Indianapolis Colts certainly don't have a corner of Champ Bailey's ilk, or a comparable secondary overall to Denver's group. The Broncos' defense has given up the fifth-fewest passing plays of 20-plus yards. Now, it's important to note that when Ray Rice is inside the white lines Sunday, he will be the best player on the field. The Ravens should try to get the ball in his hands 25 times, with a sprinkling of Bernard Pierce. Limit Peyton's possessions = best chance to win for Baltimore."
CBSSports.com: 7 of 8 pick Broncos (Mike Freeman with the Ravens)
Pete Prisco: Broncos 33, Ravens 21
"The Ravens were riding high off the emotion of Ray Lewis' retirement news last week, but that's not in play here. And this is a tough trip to a tough place to play. Oh, by the way, Peyton Manning is waiting and rested. The Broncos beat the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this season, handling them with ease. I see it happening again. The Baltimore pass defense doesn't have the rushers to get after Manning. He will sit back and carve them to pieces. That will put a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco to keep up. I don't think he can. The Broncos have great cover players, and they have great pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. They will get after Flacco in a big way. Ray Rice could take some of that pressure off, and the Broncos aren't great against the run, but Denver will score often and up the pace. Manning has owned the Ravens in his career, and it continues here. Ray Lewis is sent to retirement."
ProFootballTalk.com: 2 of 2 pick Broncos
Mike Florio: Broncos 31, Ravens 17
"Peyton Manning has beaten the Ravens nine straight times, including earlier this year in Baltimore. While Ray Lewis missed that game, he could be more of a liability than an asset in the rematch. Noticeably larger than he was when he reported to training camp with a lean frame intended to help chase tight ends, Manning could have Lewis running ragged in the thin air of Colorado. Along with the rest of the defense."
SportingNews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Broncos 27, Ravens 17
"The Ravens have a little extra juice for the playoffs, given any game could be the last for Ray Lewis. They'll need every bit of it to slow down the Peyton Manning express. The Broncos' 11-game winning streak included a 34-17 romp in Baltimore. As much trouble as Lewis and the rest of the defense will have against Manning, there should be more issues for the Ravens' offense. With Von Miller leading the way, the Broncos will be stingy toward Ray Rice and the running game, and even more dangerous with the league's best pass rush against Joe Flacco. A second ring isn't in the cards for Lewis, but Manning will still have that great chance."
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Ravens 27, Broncos 20
"For the shoddy reasons listed [here], I'm taking the Ravens. Peyton Manning has won his last nine games against Baltimore, including the two times he's faced the Ravens in the playoffs. Throw it all out the window. Here's your big upset special."
Do Broncos Have Any Weaknesses?
The experts' picks are less about snubbing the Ravens and more about drooling over the Broncos.
There's good reason to be impressed.
According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, the Broncos finished in the top five of their in-depth, crazy math whiz ratings on both offense and defense. (Hey, maybe their special teams aren't that good???).
That left the Football Outsiders wondering whether the Broncos have any weaknesses at all.
"It is often said that football is a game of matchups. But it may be more accurate to say that football is a game of strengths and weaknesses. Coaches examine all the matchups to figure out where they have an advantage, then try to attack the opponent's weaknesses through certain plays or tendencies.
"That presents a real problem for the Baltimore Ravens as they enter Saturday's divisional-round contest against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are an extremely well-rounded team without a lot of glaring weaknesses."
Divisional Upsets Not Unheard Of
The Ravens aren't the first team to be an underdog against a top-seeded team. It happens every year.
And there are upsets every year too, as pointed out by the Denver Post.
Since the NFL instituted the current 12-team postseason format in 1990, the AFC's top seed is 13-9 (.591) in the divisional round, which is the first game a No. 1 seed would play in the playoffs.
Manning has led the AFC's top-seeded team twice in his career. He lost in that situation in 2005 to the San Diego Chargers. Then he won in 2009 against the Ravens in Indianapolis.
The Ravens knocked off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in 2008 on their way to the AFC championship game.
So it's not like this hasn't been done before.
Must Watch Video: Clash of the Titans
While Manning and Lewis didn't seem interested in talking about their impending final matchup Saturday, it's a historic event.
This is two of the best players of all time at their position going at it one last time.
In that spirit, this is a must-watch video that will probably make you wish the game was tonight.
Suggs Ready To Beat Peyton
Manning's nine straight wins over the Ravens spans linebacker Terrell Suggs' entire career.
While Lewis has at least tasted some victory over Manning, Suggs never has.
"They say even broke clocks work two times a day, so hopefully that will be different come this weekend," Suggs told the NFL Network during a sit-down interview.
Suggs, who hasn't talked to the Baltimore media this week, chatted about Manning and his health yesterday. And he's definitely ready to try to knock off Denver's No. 18.
"He's particularly very good against aggressive defenses," Suggs said. "He knows which guys to key onto find what he needs to know."
Suggs was asked how much pain he's playing with right now. He's returned from an Achilles tear and missed only one game before returning from a biceps injury.
"I always tell myself, come February 5th we're not going to feel none of it at the end if we have the opportunity to have the confetti dropping," Suggs said.
"We won't feel none of our nicks and bruises, none of our pain that we feel right now. Right now we're just suffering through it. But it all feels good to still be playing in January."
Haloti Ngata's End Coming Soon Too?
While Lewis and Suggs' injuries have gotten all the attention this year, the big man in the middle has been ailing as well.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has endured a second straight year with nagging injuries. He's dealt with knee and shoulder problems this year that left him on the sidelines for two games (Week 10 vs. Oakland and Week 17 vs. Cincinnati).
The injuries, as well as the death of former linebacker Junior Seau (a player many Tongans looked up to), have Ngata pondering how long he'll keep playing.
It's an odd position for a 28-year-old player who signed a five-year contract extension before last season.
"It makes you think, especially now that I have kids, is this job worth the head traumas you're probably going to end up having when you're older?" Ngata told The Baltimore Sun.
"I just think about being able to raise my kids, see them through college, see them have kids. It makes me think more about how much more I want to play."
It was reported yesterday that Seau, who committed suicide in May, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression.
- Which city is more charming: Baltimore or Denver? [Baltimore Business Journal]
- The Browns have hired a new head coach. It's former Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who will now be a first-time head coach. (Say that five times fast) [ESPN]
- It was a rough year for the Pittsburgh Steelers draft class. Running back Chris Rainey was cut yesterday hours after being arrested for simple battery in Florida. [ESPN]
- Tight end is in the midst of a career year and he had a big day against the Broncos last time out. [The Baltimore Sun]
- Kicker Justin Tucker gives the Ravens a leg up at Mile High. [CSNBaltimore.com]
- Dannell Ellerbe (@ellerbe59): "One thing about being the underdog is that you have [NOTHING to lose!!!](file:///C:/Users/downingg/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary Internet Files/Content.Outlook/G7RZWHSD/RE https:/twitter.com/ellerbe59/status/289604683998298112)" [Twitter]
- Terrell Suggs (@untouchablejay4): "[With the right woman you can move mountains!](file:///C:/Users/downingg/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary Internet Files/Content.Outlook/G7RZWHSD/RE https:/twitter.com/untouchablejay4/status/289537000355266560)" [Twitter]
- Lewis: "I want to personally thank all of the fans that made last weekend a special moment for myself and the entire football world. Looking forward to Saturday. Leave your mark. Love, Ray." [Facebook]
- The "Squirrel Dance" is taking over. Check out the Terps' tribute to Lewis. [YouTube]