Ravens vs. Broncos: Complete Preview for 2013 AFC Divisional Playoff Game

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Ravens vs. Broncos: Complete Preview for 2013 AFC Divisional Playoff Game
Rob Carr/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday, it will be the last time that we see two legends of the game face off against each other.

Over their storied careers, Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Denver's Peyton Manning have faced off 10 times (including twice in the playoffs), with Manning winning eight of those meetings.

The last time the Ravens and Broncos met in Week 15, Denver walked away with a convincing 34-17 victory, but that came with Lewis standing on the sideline, still recovering from a triceps injury that nearly ended his season (h/t NFL.com).

Can the Broncos find success against a Lewis-led Ravens defense?

Or will the Ravens ride the wave of momentum they created after beating the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 24-9 in the Wild Card Round right to the Super Bowl?

That's only one of the many storylines surrounding this contest.

Here's everything you need to know heading into Saturday afternoon's epic showdown.

 

When: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Watch: CBS

Listen: WBAL 1090 AM/WIYY 97.9 FM (Baltimore), 850 KOA AM (Denver)

 

Key Storylines

Can Baltimore Handle the Denver Pass Rush?

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Led by linebacker Von Miller (18.5) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (11.5), the Broncos led the NFL with 52 sacks on the season.

Baltimore struggled to protect Joe Flacco at times during the regular season, allowing 38 sacks, the 12th-highest total in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Baltimore's offensive line ranked in the bottom third of the league when it came to pass protection.

If Dumervil, Miller and company start getting to Flacco early, the Ravens will have little to no chance of pulling off the upset.

 

Can Joe Flacco Handle the Pressure on the Road?

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
The first time that Joe Flacco played in the divisional round of the playoffs, Baltimore eked out a 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans back in 2009.

Since then, Flacco has failed to lead the Ravens past the second round, sitting with a 1-3 career record when he's presented with a chance to advance to the Conference Championship Game.

Over his last three divisional-round games, Flacco has completed 57 percent of his passes (58-of-101) for 620 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.

More concerning is Flacco's inability to perform as well on the road as he does in the cozy confines of M&T Bank Stadium.

Take a look at his splits from this season (not including Baltimore's Wild Card victory over Indianapolis):

  Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int
Home 176 283 62.20% 2,363 15 5
Road 141 248 56.90% 1,454 7 5

If Flacco plays to those numbers on Saturday in Denver, it's going to be a long afternoon for Baltimore.

 

What the Ravens Must Do to Win

Larry French/Getty Images
Establish the run early.

It's much easier to talk about than to actually pull it off against a Broncos defense that ranked third against the run, allowing only 91.1 rushing yards per game, but Ray Rice is the key on offense for the Ravens. 

Getting Rice involved early will force the Broncos to commit more to the run, giving Flacco's receivers on the outside a chance to take advantage of single coverage. 

Anything that Baltimore can do on offense to make things easier on Flacco is a good thing against a Broncos defense that is one of the best overall units in the league.

Defensively, the Ravens must figure out a way to pressure Manning. Denver's offensive line allowed only 21 sacks during the regular season, second-fewest in the NFL.

Drop all but three or four defenders into coverage, and the Broncos will feed the Ravens a heavy dose of Knowshon Moreno.

Despite Lewis' presence in the middle of the field, Moreno will have some success on the ground against the league's 20th-ranked rushing defense, 

 

What the Broncos Must Do to Win

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Play their game.

It sounds cliché, but when you are talking about a team that's won 10 consecutive games, there's not a whole lot to get concerned about.

Denver's offense revolves around Manning, and seeing as how the Ravens defense is nowhere near as formidable as the unit that Manning played faced in the past, it's hard to find fault with how Manning handles himself under center.

Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas must run clean routes and get some separation from Ed Reed and the Ravens secondary to make Manning's job easier.

But considering that Manning has been able to squeeze the ball into the smallest of openings throughout the season, there's no reason to expect that to change now.

Defensively, the Broncos must get in Flacco's face early and often, getting him out of his comfort level and forcing him to make poor decisions with the football.

Denver's pass rush must be aggressive and take advantage of the Ravens' questionable offensive line in order to get Flacco playing as his road splits indicate that he should.

 

Prediction: Denver 35, Baltimore 21

Denver simply has too much firepower on both sides of the ball, and Flacco's inability to raise the level of his game on the road will conspire to work against the Ravens in this one.

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