The Ravens know what they're up against Saturday.
Head Coach John Harbaugh called the Broncos the hottest team in the NFL. Linebacker Ray Lewis said they're arguably the best.
"If that's what it is, then let's get ready to play the best team in football," Lewis said.
Of the eight remaining playoff teams, the Denver Broncos are Las Vegas' favorites to win the Super Bowl. They're 9 ½ point favorites against the Ravens this week.
It's all for good reason.
The Broncos are winners of 11 consecutive games. They have Peyton Manning, who has beaten the Ravens nine straight times. They have a defense that finished tied atop the NFL in sacks. They had an extra week of rest while the Ravens had a short turnaround. They're at home, and adjusted to Denver's high altitude. They beat the Ravens, 34-17, just three weeks ago.
But with so many factors on the Broncos' side, and so many pundits already punching their ticket to the AFC championship, who has more pressure on them to win Saturday?
"We love the position that we're in right now," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "When nobody gives you a chance there's not a whole lot of pressure on you. You can go out and play relaxed, play confident and do what you know you're capable of."
Despite all the chatter around them, Pitta said the Ravens are a confident football team and that they know it's a mistake to overlook them.
"I don't think anybody thinks we can win this game but us," defensive tackle Art Jones said. "That's the beauty of football. Our story is just now starting to be written."
3 Matchups To Watch
LB Ray Lewis vs. QB Peyton ManningIt's the final battle between two legends on their sides of the ball. When Manning last faced* *the Ravens, Josh Bynes was the inside linebacker relaying signals to his teammates. This time, Manning will see Lewis captaining the defense and adjusting to Manning's infamous changes at the line of scrimmage. It's a mental chess match for the ages.
RT Michael Oher vs. OLB Von MillerMiller is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 18.5 sacks this year. He's got every tool to work with, from power to speed. Oher has had some trouble with speed rushers this year, but is athletic enough to keep up with Miller. The Broncos sacked quarterback Joe Flacco three times and hit him nine times in the last meeting. Baltimore's offensive line needs to keep him upright Saturday.
WR Anquan Boldin vs. CB Chris HarrisBoldin went off in the first round of the playoffs, recording five catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. Boldin didn't have a single catch against Denver in their meeting three weeks ago, however. He was the targeted receiver when quarterback Joe Flacco threw a critical interception to Harris that the Broncos cornerback returned for a touchdown.
3 Questions To Answer
How much will altitude affect Ravens?
Baltimore hasn't played in Denver during the* *Harbaugh era. Some players said it makes a real difference while others said it's all psychological or negligible. Baltimore will find out how good its conditioning is on Saturday, and winning time of possession could be especially important.
Can the Ravens ride without emotional wave?
There will be no Ray Lewis dance this time. The emotional boost the Ravens got from their leader's final home game will have washed away when they land in Denver. They'll be hearing boos this time when they're introduced. Can the Ravens still get off to a good start and play with as much passion as they did at home against Indianapolis?
Can Baltimore finally beat Peyton Manning?The Ravens have sometimes limited Manning, but they haven't beaten him in nine straight games. Baltimore has to either convince the Broncos to run, pressure Manning or cut off his passing lanes. Manning has two big-time receivers to go to in DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who torched the Ravens with eight catches for 133 yards in their last meeting.
Total Defense – 350.9 (17)
Rush Defense – 122.8 (20)
Pass Defense – 228.1 (17)
Points Allowed Per Game – 21.5 (12t)
Total Offense – 352.5 (16)
Rush Offense – 118.8 (11)
Pass Offense – 233.7 (15)
Points Scored Per Game – 24.9 (10)
Total Defense – 290.8 (2)
Rush Defense – 91.1 (3)
Pass Defense – 199.6 (3)
Points Allowed Per Game – 18.1 (4)
Total Offense – 397.9 (4)
Rush Offense – 114.5 (16)
Pass Offense – 283.4 (5)
Points Scored Per Game – 30.1 (2)