The last time the Ravens marched into Denver, it ended up like this, with Peyton Manning tying a NFL record for seven passing touchdowns in a game.
Then again, the time before that, this happened.
It seems as if anything could happen when these two teams meet. While this time around, many are projecting the Broncos to win, there are plenty of mismatches on both teams that can be exploited. There's no doubt that the Ravens got a tough draw with the Broncos, but it's really anyone's game. Let's delve further into those mismatches and key factors that could go a long way in deciding who wins this important opener.
Peyton Manning Must Be On-Point
"something something QB rating, something something Peyton Manning is really good in September!" - practically every "analyst" currently
Yes, we know. In case you didn't know, Peyton Manning is really good in September. Since 2012, he's 8-2 in the month and has posted an average QB rating of 120.7. But does it really matter? Probably not. It's just another irrational cherry-picked statistic. It's like saying that Joe Flacco only plays well if there is a Haribo gummy bear sacrifice on gameday.
Whether you believe in Peyton's September supremacy or not, you know that he has to be top-notch come Sunday. This much-improved Ravens' secondary is unforgiving, and with a top safety and cornerback duo in Will Hill and Jimmy Smith, Manning's decision-making needs to be sharp. Turnovers will be everything in this game, and a careless pick will prove to be costly as these teams jostle for field position. Another thing Manning may need to worry about is his health. Nagging injuries hampered his production last year, and a big hit from the Ravens' pass rush is not only inevitable, but at this stage, could also be career-threatening for the veteran quarterback. The Broncos' Super Bowl hopes quite literally fall on Manning's shoulders, and if he goes down, so do the chances of this Broncos team.
The Broncos Offensive Line Has Got to Be Semi-Comptent
With the recent addition of guard Evan Mathis, this unit isn't as bad as it once was, but questions marks are still arising about the team's questionable units. The team is relying on quite a few young guys to hold down the fort, but at this position, it seems as if sometimes youth isn't superior to experience. Rookie Ty Sambarailo, who is the team's LT, and C Matt Paradis, last year's sixth-round selection for the team, could both be huge mismatches against the Ravens' scary defensive line.
Joe Flacco Needs to Stretch the Field
Much like he did in 2013 in that crucial AFC Divisional Championship, Flacco needs to work the deep ball. While he doesn't have the ideal personnel to do such a thing, he'll have to make it work. With the Ravens lacking a 'burner' currently, either Steve Smith or Kamar Aiken will need to penetrate the Broncos' secondary deep down the field. I say this because safety may actually be the Broncos' biggest weakness. The team is starting former Raven Darian Stewart at free safety and former fourth-round pick David Bruton at strong safety. Ravens fans know that Stewart is a liability in the secondary, and while Bruton is considered one of the best special teamers in the league, he's mostly been used as a depth player at safety. It will be interesting to see if Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman attacks this obvious Broncos' disadvantage.
Ravens Receivers Need to Show Up
As I just mentioned up top, Joe Flacco needs a guy to emerge as a deep threat. Not only do they need to that, but these receivers must be as mistake-free as can be. If you'll recall, the earlier weeks of last season were filled with many painful drops from our wide receivers, and a repeat performance of that would damper the Ravens' chances. While Steve Smith, Sr. is penciled in to have a nice night, the 'unproven' corps of young guns that consists of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, and Darren Waller must step up. These receivers will get a big challenge, as Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. headline a mighty-tough group of cornerbacks.
This Game Could Come Down to a Kick
Most of the projections from analysts and pundits have this game coming down to a tight margin of victory, and in most cases, three measly points. The betting line lies at the Broncos by 4, so this should be a close game by all accounts. This of course means that every point counts, and missed field goals will be unacceptable. The Ravens have the advantage by a long shot here, as Justin Tucker is quite literally the most accurate kicker in NFL history. The Broncos on the other hand, have some uncertainty at the position. The team cut the experienced Connor Barth and elected to keep the second-year kicker Brandon McManus this offseason, and that has some fans worried. McManus was the Broncos kicker during and after Matt Prater's suspension, but was cut about a month after Prater's release in favor of Connor Barth. During his time as starter, McManus went 9/13 for a 69.2 FG%.
If McManus isn't accurate, it could make all of the difference. Especially up in Denver, where the ball is known to travel a lot farther due to lower air density.
So with all of the variables considered, you know this is going to be a good game. Two AFC juggernauts going at it in Week 1 is a dream matchup for most involved. I've got the Broncos winning this one, unfortunately. Sorry, but I'm a realist. While it will be a long, drawn-out battle, I think that Peyton can pull this one off, and that the Ravens offense may fall a little flat against what is actually a really good Broncos defense. However, I think that the Ravens will go on a little bit of a rampage in the following weeks.
Final Score: Broncos 31 - Ravens 21
But don't take it from just me, let's look at the predictions from all of us here at the Beatdown.
Brian Malan, Moderator: Trestman starts out the gate with a short passing attack to our TE's and a spread running game on the outside. Baltimore gets up early, but Denver ties it at half. Peyton and the offensive line get harassed all night, forcing Peyton into a Will Hill pick 6 in the 3rd quarter. Baltimore gains momentum off that and has two more scoring drives eating up 13+ minutes of the 2nd half. Defense locks it down late. Flacco finishes with 2 TDs, 0 ints and 245 yards. Crockett and Aiken hall in the TDs. Buck Allen adds a goal line TD. Defense has 4 sacks and 2 turnovers. Tucker boots a 50-yarder late in the 4th.
Final Score: Ravens 27 - Broncos 17
Yitzi Weiss, Editor: The Ravens defense shuts down the run early, and Peyton has limited success with the Ravens getting pressure much of the time. However, the Ravens cannot get consistent drives going, with Forsett finding some room and scoring the only touchdown. 10-3 Ravens at the half. In the second half, Flacco gets going a little, Peyton tries to force it too much and the Ravens record a takeaway.
Defense 3 sacks, 1 takeaway, 1 touchdown
Joe 230 yards, 1 touchdown, Forsett over 100 yds and 1 touchdown, Crockett scores the only receiving TD.
Final Score: Ravens 30 - Broncos 17
Kyle Barber, Editor: Denver is too good week 1. Baltimore attempts to establish the run but Von Miller & Co have other plans. Ravens fizzle the first few series. Good news the weak tackles from both sides of Denver's line are getting beat up. Denver hits back to back field goals from interior running as the guard combo of Vasquez & Mathis force feed the Ravens a few first downs. Mosley stops them on two third downs to force the kicks. Ravens then go for passing utilizing Gillmore & Williams. More success follows and Ravens score. A back and forth defensive effort by both teams, but Manning vs. Ravens in regular season is not pretty.
Final Score: Broncos 20 - Ravens 17
Chuck Mills, Author: Emmanuel Sanders provides most of the Broncos receiving yards as Jimmy will be shutting down Demaryius Thomas and the Ravens ILBs handle Owen Daniels. Sanders and C.J. Anderson have a TD reception. The defensive line pressures Peyton all day and holds the Broncos to below 100 yards. The Ravens only have 75 yards rushing, but Flacco throws TDs to Crockett Gillmore and Kamar Aiken. Justin Tucker wins the game with a field goal.
Final Score: Ravens 20 - Broncos 14
Zac Oakes, Author:
Justin Forsett has a rushing touchdown, while Steve Smith and Maxx Williams catch touchdown passes. Joe Flacco goes for 225 through the air. Suggs and Dumervil make life miserable for Denver's offensive tackles, consistently applying pressure and forcing Peyton into at least one interception. Justin Tucker kicks two field goals, including one with less than 3 minutes to go to seal the victory for the Ravens.
Final Score: Ravens 27 - Broncos 24
Ben Rosen, Author: I believe this is the year where Peyton Manning starts to act like a 39 year old quarterback and not like a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yes, our offensive guru Gary Kubiak is now coaching that team (which - I know - sounds scary) but keep in mind that he's the head coach, he's not in charge of the offense like he was in Baltimore. I don't expect great results when one of Kubiak's protegés has to effectively install a new offense that forces Peyton freaking Manning to change what he's used to at this stage of his career. Gary is a great offensive mind, but I think this is more "Texans" Gary Kubiak and less "Baltimore" Gary Kubiak. As for the Ravens, we have one of the best defensive lines in football, a pissed off WR in his last NFL season, a skilled TE that has flown under the radar, and one of the best offensive lines in the game. I expect us to shock the world on Sunday.
Final Score: Ravens 31 - Broncos 24
Matthew Stevens, Managing Editor: I think the ravens dominate from the opening kickoff through to the final whistle. By getting after Peyton Manning, they force him into throwing errant passes that the ravens can pick off. On offense, the ravens use passes to the running backs and tight ends to soften up a broncos defense that won't be able to get to flacco. Using play action, the ravens will beat them deep on a couple of plays, further extending their lead.
Final Score: Ravens 31 - Broncos 10
No matter what you think the final score is, you'll be in for some fun this Sunday. I'm just excited that football is back. So who do you think will win? Post your prediction below!