1. The Baltimore Ravens will stop the run much better this time around with a healthier lineup on the defensive side of the football.
The Ravens will be playing virtually at full strength this time around as 17 players are listed as probable heading into the AFC Divisional playoff. We all know that Knowshon Moreno was an X-factor last time these two teams met in Week 15, where the Broncos defeated the Ravens 34-17 at M&T Bank Stadium. He will get his carries. He will get his yards, but it won’t be as easy this time around, especially with No. 52 in the middle of the defense. He isn’t anywhere near the run stopper he was earlier in his career, but Lewis is always putting himself in the right position to make plays in the run game. Getting off of blocks is a different story.
A virtually 100% Dannell Ellerbe and Bernard Pollard will aid the Ravens in stopping the run as well. The key in this match-up will be the guys up front for both the Broncos and the Ravens. The Broncos had the best running game in the league last season with Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee leading the charge. This is virtually the same offensive line and the Ravens face a daunting task in trying to get penetration into the backfield. If the Ravens are asking Terrence Cody and Ma’ake Kemoeatu to give Haloti Ngata some support in the middle, this is the game.
2. Peyton Manning will throw for over 300 yards proving his doubters wrong that he can’t play in cold weather.
It’s Denver. It will be below freezing. There’s a slight chance of snow. Peyton Manning is 2-6 in games under 32 degrees and Joe Flacco is 5-3. I get it. They both also have six touchdowns and nine interceptions in those eight games. However, Manning has always had this chip on his shoulder that he can’t play in the cold nor can he play in the playoffs. This is the game where he will break out.
Will it be hard to throw the ball?
Sure, but he’s Peyton Manning.
The supporting cast of the Broncos is a fairly capable one with Demaryius Thomas providing size and speed on the outside, Eric Decker displaying some of the better hands and route-running skills in the league, Joel Dressen in the red zone is money and Jacob Tamme is another reliable old friend from Indianapolis.
Where the Broncos will have success today is attacking the middle of the field at Ray Lewis and the play-action passing game. If the Broncos can establish the run early with Moreno, look for Manning and his supporting cast to explode through the air with a big day.
We all love Lewis, but know his forte is not dropping back and covering receivers and tight ends over the middle of the field and the seams. The Ravens will need a huge game from Ellerbe in that aspect to make up for the lack of atheliticism from No. 52.
3. Joe Flacco will NOT be the reason the Ravens lose this football game.
With temperatures nearing zero, the Ravens are going to look to run the football more. Passes will be only used when necessary, but Joe Flacco will NOT be the reason the Ravens lose this game.
The road struggles of the Ravens have been evident all season and Flacco has been a reason as to why the Ravens haven’t lit it up on the scoreboard on the road. However, Flacco will take care of the ball this game and avoid hearing the Mile High faithful yelling “incomplete” after each errant throw.
This game should be more of the same as it was last week with Flacco. Look to Boldin and Pitta coming down the field, check down to Rice if needed and if none of those options are working, avoid Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil at all costs. Easier said than done correct?
Offensive coordinator will not put Flacco in a hole by forcing him to chuck the ball deep to Torrey Smith. It just will not happen in this type of weather.
Flacco may not light it up on the stat sheet, as he will probably go for roughly over 200 yards, but he will not make the costly mistake he made last time these two teams faced off.
4. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will have a better game this time around, but not as much success as last week.
The last time these two teams squared off, there was virtually no output from these two running backs. However, a healthier Ravens team that will feature Marshal Yanda at right guard this time around bodes well for Rice and Pierce. It also works in the Ravens’ favor somewhat that the weather will be freezing cold. This could force the action of both defenses in that both teams will rely more so on the ground game, therefore more guys will be in the box. Plus, this has become more of a two-headed attack in recent weeks. We saw what Rice and Pierce brought to the table last week. Rice simply can’t put the ball on the ground this week as Denver will capitalize on those mistakes much better than the Colts did.
Will Rice and Pierce go for 175 yards total on the ground?
However, if the Ravens decide to run at Dumervil and Miller early on to wear them down for third downs and the fourth quarter, it can help the Ravens tackles throughout he game. Bryant McKinnie isn’t a great run blocker and neither is Michael Oher, but if they can get on these two studs on the outside for the Broncos, even laying a body on them can help the causes of not only Rice and Pierce, but also Flacco.
Look for Pierce to garner more yards than Rice on the ground, but Rice to have more total yards as Flacco will look to check down quite frequently due to the pressure up front by the Broncos.
5. With all of the emotional uplifting that Ray Lewis brought last week, it will not be enough this time around as the Broncos end the Ravens season and Lewis’ career.
Len Pasquarelli said it best, “The only player truly affected by the altitude is Ryan Clark of the Steelers.”
There are arguments made about the altitude and the weather and how the cold weather may benefit the Ravens.
Here’s the reality.
The altitude will somewhat make a difference in that the Ravens probably will not use the no-huddle offense because they won’t be able to sub out players and keep them hydrated in thin air.
But, Denver is just a better all-around team and the National Football League comes down to players and match-ups.
This will be a chess match between the quarterback of the Ravens defense, Ray Lewis, and the quarterback of the Broncos offense, Peyton Manning, during their pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage.
However, as much as they Ravens want to prove the national media wrong and help Ray Lewis go out on top as a Super Bowl champion, his storied career ends today.