Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Sunday, 1pm at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD
I will be the first one to admit it, I knew Peyton Manning was good but I thought that whatever team won the “Manning Sweepstakes” in the offseason would be getting a Peyton Manning that would be far from 100 percent. I was wrong. Manning is having an MVP type year – the Broncos are tied for the second best record in the conference and are many people’s favorite to go to the Super Bowl. The Ravens are coming into this game fresh off their first two-game losing streak since 2009, after firing their offensive coordinator and facing a quarterback that they have never beaten. This is a very tough task in what is surely a “must win” game for the Ravens. With a win, the Ravens clinch their fifth consecutive playoff berth. With a loss, the AFC North just became that much more interesting.
Here is my take on the game:
Ravens offense vs. Broncos defense
The Ravens brass finally made the move every fan was clamoring for: they fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handed the reigns over to Jim Caldwell. I admit Cam’s play calling was suspect a lot of the time, but last I checked he didn’t throw one pass, miss one block or drop one pass. The coordinator makes a big difference, but ultimately if the players don’t execute then there really is nothing that can be done by any coach. Also, Caldwell has never called plays in his career and his only professional head coaching stint was with Peyton Manning, so he will be learning on the job just as the players will be learning his system. The key to offensive success this week is for the Ravens offensive line to somehow block Von Miller. If they can’t, they will struggle on offense no matter what Caldwell does. The Broncos defense is more than just Miller as they are top 7 in the NFL in both pass defense and rush defense. Jim Caldwell, welcome to the job, I don’t envy your task this week. This Broncos defense is legit and maybe the best defense the Ravens have faced all season.
Broncos offense vs. Ravens defense
There is not really much analysis needed here, the Broncos have Peyton Manning under center and the Ravens defense has to stop him, something they have not been able to do since Manning entered the NFL. In addition to a hall of fame quarterback, the Broncos possess one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who both have playmaking ability that will wreak havoc on the Ravens secondary. If the Ravens secondary presses the receivers at the line they will run by them deep, and if they play off of them they have the physicality and speed to turn a short pass into a touchdown. Dean Pees will have his hands full even if Suggs and Ray Lewis both play.
This is the only area that the Ravens have the advantage. Special teams will likely decide if the Ravens have a chance to win the game or get blown out. Jacoby Jones will need to give the offense tremendous field position and the coverage team needs be stout and try to force turnovers. It’s hard enough to stop Manning when he has to drive 80 yards, so giving him a short field would be even worse. Hopefully the special teams makes a big play, the Ravens will likely need it.
With all the hyping of the Broncos I have done, you would think that I give the Ravens no shot of winning this game, but that is not the case. The Broncos are good, however, 8 of their 10 wins have come against teams with losing records, beating the Raiders and Chargers twice and the Panthers, Chiefs and Saints among others. I know you can only play the teams on your schedule and it doesn’t matter if you win ugly or pretty, but it is worth noting the teams the Broncos have played when analyzing the numbers they have put up this year. All signs point to a Denver win, and that would definitely be the smart pick, but I just have a gut feeling that the Ravens offense steps up and the defense or special teams force a turnover and the Ravens somehow leave the stadium Sunday afternoon at 10-4. I just don’t see the Ravens losing three games in a row and two games in a row at home. Call me a homer, or an idiot, but the Ravens win in a shootout… although a blowout by Denver would not shock me either.
Ravens 34, Broncos 31
Follow Marco on twitter @mromanell and southbmore.com @southbmore1