Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Baltimore Ravens might be up against long odds in this weekend's Divisional Round playoff game at the Denver Broncos, but they will be at their best for the match-up.
The Baltimore Ravens are around a nine-point underdog against the Denver Broncos and perhaps rightly so. Denver came into Baltimore and put a huge embarrassing beatdown on the Ravens just under a month ago. Now the teams are meeting in the high altitude of Mile High Stadium, which obviously should swing the odds even more in their favor.
However, the Ravens will not have any excuses this time around, even though they gave none back then. Lots of fans pointed to the Joe Flacco fumble on that first-drive QB sneak as well as his ill-timed throw that was picked off and returned for a 98-yard interception return when the Ravens were knocking on the door for a possible TD to cut the Broncos lead to 10-7 late in the first half.
Those two turnovers might have made a difference but the Broncos made the plays while the Ravens did not and won the game a lot more than the 34-17 final score may have seemed. This week the Ravens cannot make those mistakes and will have no margin for error if they want to pull off the huge upset.
Baltimore was without a bevy of starters in the first meeting, including both starting inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe. Both are now back and led the defense in keeping last weekend's opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, out of the end zone in the Ravens 24-9 victory.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard also missed the game and is one of the hardest hitters on the defense. The secondary was in a state of flux with all the injuries and the offensive line was far from its best.
Now the offensive line seems to have its best starting five on the field and it showed last week, as Flacco was given time to throw and they also opened huge holes for the running game. Both Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs played together for the first time all season and the return of Ellerbe and Pollard completed the defense's shutdown of the Colts.
While the stats might have shown a lot of yardage piled up by the Colts, they were unable to crack the plane of the goal line, which is the ultimate goal of any defense.
Offensively, the changeover form former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to current OC Jim Caldwell was obvious last week and the combination of the playcalling and execution appears to be an upgrade over what we had seen. Backup RB Bernard Pierce is proving a deadly complement to Ray Rice and when the combination of Flacco to Boldin is clicking, it can be virtually unstoppable.
In no way is it fair to compare the Colts to the Broncos on both offense or defense, but the simple facts of the current level of play by the Ravens are unquestionable. In the NFL it's not how you start but how you finish. The biggest question will be if this is enough to pull off the upset in Denver remains to be seem. However, at this point of the season, the Ravens are as ready and able to give their best effort and if it is still not enough, then hat's off to the Broncos.
Then again, if the Ravens do shock the world, Baltimore may be the only city in the country watching that will not be overly surprised to see the Ravens come out as victors.