After blowing a fourth-quarter lead and losing in overtime to the Washington Redskins in Week 14, the Baltimore Ravens (9-4) will be looking for redemption at home on Sunday against the scorching 10-3 Denver Broncos.
The Broncos earned their eighth straight win on Thursday Night Football over the Oakland Raiders and are the best team in the NFL right now, while the Ravens saw a hobbled Robert Griffin III give way to Kirk Cousins to lead a Redskins comeback last Sunday.
Having lost two in a row, Baltimore will be looking to get its defense back on track, but it will have its hands full with a Peyton Manning-led offense in Week 15.
Here's your guide to Sunday's action.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, M.D.
When: Sunday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Game Rewind
Betting Line: Ravens (+3) (via Bet Online) Over/Under: 48 (Bet Online)
It's extremely hard to go against Manning and the Broncos right now, so I'm not going to.
I like Denver on the road despite the three-point spread. Baltimore's defense isn't what it used to be and I think Manning and his receivers have a big day against this unit.
The Broncos haven't shown many issues with playing on the road, and with Baltimore coming off a disappointing overtime loss, I'm sticking with Denver.
For the over/under, I'm rolling with the over.
Bovada tells us that the spread has gone over in seven of Denver's last 10 road games and five out of the Ravens' last six home games.
Both teams rank in the top 10 in the league in terms of points per game, which is why I like the over.
What's At Stake?
The Broncos have already locked up the AFC West, but they're still hungry to play for a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs. They're currently tied with New England at 10-3, but the Broncos lost the head-to-head matchup in Week 5. A win over the Ravens, who are just behind them in the AFC standings, would be a huge boost.
For Baltimore, there are still playoff implications. A loss would put their two-game division lead in jeopardy, especially with a Steelers win on Sunday.
Broncos Injury Report (via USA Today)
G Chris Kuper—Ankle—QST
Ravens Injury Report (via USA Today)
LB Ray Lewis—Tricep—QST
RB Ray Rice—Hip—QST
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: Demaryius Thomas
How could you not start Manning's favorite target?
Thomas is approaching 1,200 receiving yards and has 74 receptions and eight touchdowns to show for it while being targeted a team-high 110 times this season.
Against a Baltimore defense that ranks 23rd in receiving yardage allowed, Thomas should be in for a good day, having scored a combined four touchdowns in his past four games.
Sit 'Em: Torrey Smith
Judging by Anquan Boldin's production in Week 14, it's clear to see that Smith isn't Flacco's primary target.
He has a combined four receptions for 54 yards the past two weeks, and with a new offensive coordinator, who knows what's in store for Smith in the new offense.
Unless you own Boldin, I wouldn't start a Baltimore wide receiver.
Sleeper: Dennis Pitta
I would, however, start Dennis Pitta.
Pitta has been a nice surprise for fantasy owners this season, catching 50 passes for 488 yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos' defense has allowed 22 receiving touchdowns, so it's definitely solid to utilize Pitta in Week 15 if you have him.
What They're Saying
Firing Cam Cameron was a difficult decision for John Harbaugh, as NFL Columnist Bob Glauber tweets:
Glauber (@BobGlauber) December 10, 2012
I don't know if this says more about the Broncos or the AFC West, but check out this tweet by ESPN:
With 9 wins, the @denver_broncos have as many wins as the rest of the AFC West combined (9-27)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 7, 2012
Broncos Player to Watch: Knowshon Moreno
We all know what Manning and the aerial attack are capable of, but I really think Knowshon Moreno is a big key to a Denver win on Sunday.
Taking over the starter's role from Willis McGahee, Moreno has performed admirably, rushing for a combined 273 yards over the course of the past three games, highlighted by 119 yards and a TD against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14.
Against a Ravens rushing defense that ranks 25th and has surrendered 12 rushing TDs, look for Moreno to make his mark on this game.
Ravens Player to Watch: Ray Rice
Rice should be Baltimore's focal point on offense, but we've seen them get away from the running game at times this season, especially in the Ravens' Week 11 loss to the Steelers.
There have been eight games this season where the star RB received less than 20 carries, which is completely unacceptable for a team has such a dynamic running back.
The Broncos' defense covers the rush well, but in order to take some pressure off Flacco and keep Denver on its toes, Baltimore needs to utilize Rice to his fullest on Sunday.
Key Matchup: Joe Flacco vs. Denver Secondary
With Cam Cameron out as offensive coordinator and Jim Caldwell in, we're going to see what kind of quarterback Flacco is.
As Baltimore's former quarterbacks coach, Caldwell will reportedly be calling the shots on offense, which should be more to the liking of Flacco and the Ravens (h/t Baltimore Sun).
If Baltimore is smart, it will utilize Rice more in both the running and passing game, but with the Broncos sporting the fourth-best total defense, this makes for one intriguing matchup.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Ravens 20
Until Manning and the Broncos lose, they should not be bet against.
Already rolling with his MVP-type season, Manning leads Denver to a ninth-straight win, throwing for 300-plus yards and three TDs.
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