Joe Flacco regularly gets asked by fans about his favorite places to play in the NFL.
His first response is Baltimore, naturally, but people like to know about the toughest road environment. He used to say Pittsburgh, but after traveling to Denver in January for the playoffs, Flacco now has a new response.
"I think that would definitely be my answer – Denver," Flacco said. "It just really seemed like a cool place to play."
Sports Authority Field at Mile High is known as one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The Broncos are known for having a loyal fan base, and the franchise has the best home record (214-84) in the NFL since 1975.
"We know the environment we're going into," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It will be the same environment, or even tougher, than the one that we faced in January, and we're excited about that."
The biggest difference in the environment from the AFC divisional round game will be the temperature. The mid-January matchup was the coldest game in Broncos history, with temperatures in the single digits and wind-chill below zero. This week's forecast is calling for a game-time temperature in the mid 60s.
While the weather is not expected to be an issue, the fans will still be riled up for the nationally televised matchup to open the 2013 season.
"It is going to be a playoff-like atmosphere out there," running back Ray Rice said. "It won't be as cold, but I'm sure it will be probably one of the hardest hitting games of the year."
In addition to the traditionally loud stadium, the Ravens will also have to adjust to the higher altitude in Denver. The change in altitude can be a challenge as opposing players struggle to catch their breath in the thin mountain air.
Some teams take the mountain trips early, but the Ravens have kept the same travel schedule they used during the playoffs last year by flying west about 24 hours ahead of the game. The thin air did not hinder the Ravens in January, and the team does not have any plans to counteract the change in altitude.
"We'll just play the way we always play," Harbaugh said. "We work really hard at practice. We're always going to be a highly, highly-conditioned team. It will not affect our guys."
The altitude and the crowd will put the Ravens in a tough environment to open to season, but the team is looking forward to that kind of Week 1 test.
"We like to feel like we thrive in those kinds of conditions," Harbaugh said. "That's why you do this. We feel like we're just the men for the job, and we're excited about it. That's a great stadium with great fans, great organization [and] great team. There's just nothing about going in there that doesn't say everything that's good about the National Football League."