Ravens vs Broncos: Who Has the Edge in Divisional Round Matchup?
The game is a rematch of a Week 15 contest between the two teams, which resulted in Denver winning easily, 34-17. Learning their opponent will set to be the Broncos may be especially bad news for Baltimore, considering this is the first time the two teams will meet in Denver.
Despite the game occurring only a few weeks ago, next weekend's Divisional Round game will feature two very different teams from their regular season matchup.
Denver reached the round thanks to a bye for earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Baltimore had to fight past the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round to receive a shot at the Broncos.
Let's break down a few key matchups in the upcoming game and decided which team overall has the edge on the way to the AFC Championship Game.
Peyton Manning vs. Ravens Pass Defense
Peyton Manning is playing at an MVP-caliber level this season, but certainly had a day to forget the last time he faced the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks ago.
Manning connected on just 17 of 28 attempts for 204 yards and one touchdown. The Broncos won big, but the defensive secondary of the Ravens kept him in check all game long.
Overall, Manning has thrown for over 4,600 yards and 37 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. He will be on the top of his game against a secondary that allows almost 230 yards per game.
Ed Reed and Co. are a solid group overall but, even last week against the Indianapolis Colts, their defense allowed rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to throw for almost 300 yards.
The Ravens defense is great, but Manning is better.
Joe Flacco vs. Broncos Pass Defense
Joe Flacco is an above-average quarterback, and he has shown that all season long. Flacco was electric in the Wild Card Round, but encounters the No. 3 ranked passing defense in the NFL against the Broncos.
Flacco has thrown for over 3,800 yards this year to go with his 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. When the two teams squared off in Week 15, Flacco completed just 50 percent of his passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
Both of Flacco's touchdowns in the previous matchup came when the game was already decided in the fourth quarter. His one interception on the day was returned for a 98-yard touchdown by Broncos defender Chris Harris.
Flacco has been solid, especially in the playoffs and may have led the Ravens to a Super Bowl last year, barring a Lee Evans drop. However, all signs point to a mediocre day for Flacco against one of the best pass defenses.
Knowshon Moreno vs. Ravens Rush Defense
Knowshon Moreno assumed the mantle of starting running back in Denver after Willis McGahee went down earlier in the season with an injury.
Moreno has been average at best, as he has compiled 525 yards and four touchdowns while averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
One of Moreno's best days came in Week 15 against Baltimore when he carried the ball 21 times for 115 yards and a touchdown, effectively combining with Peyton Manning to keep the Ravens' offense off the field.
Moreno's day against the Ravens looks great on paper until you realize Baltimore was missing one key element to its rush defense: Ray Lewis.
Lewis is back and looks great after announcing his retirement. He will provide a boost to a unit that gives up 123 yards on the ground per game. In the Wild Card Round, Lewis racked up 13 tackles against Indianapolis.
Ray Rice vs. Broncos Rush Defense
Ray Rice is one of the best running backs the NFL has to offer and his 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns this season more than prove it.
Unfortunately for Rice, his biggest challenge is yet to come as he has a date with the No. 3 ranked overall rushing defense in the NFL.
The last time these two teams met, Rice was only handed the ball 12 times, which he turned into only 38 yards.
Rice needs to have a bigger impact from the onset of the game against the Broncos for his team to win. He is coming off a 70-yard performance with two fumbles (both lost) against the Colts in the Divisional Round.
The Broncos defense is elite against the run and Rice appears to be slumping. It could be a long day for Baltimore if Rice cannot get his act together.
Demaryius Thomas & Eric Decker vs. Ed Reed and Ravens Pass Defense
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have combined for one of the best one-two receiving combos in the NFL, thanks to the arrival of Peyton Manning.
Decker has compiled 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season, while Thomas comes in with 1,434 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Thomas had a quiet day the last time the Broncos encountered the Ravens, but Decked did not. He managed to reel in eight passes for 133 yards and one touchdown.
Conversely, Baltimore is a middle-of-the-pack group that gives up 229 yards through the air each game. The return of Ray Lewis is not going to help them any in that regard.
Ed Reed, Cary Williams and Co. have a large task in front of them, and could ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith vs. Broncos Pass Defense
Anquan Boldin may be 32 years old, but he certainly has not played that way this season. He has racked up 921 yards and four touchdowns on 65 receptions.
Torrey Smith is the big-play receiver for the Ravens. Smith has pulled in 49 passes for 855 yards and eight touchdowns.
The duo combines to give Joe Flacco a threat to score on almost every play. Last week against the Colts, Boldin caught five passes for 145 yards and one score.
Both will be challenged in the Divisional Round by an elite pass defense that gives up less than 200 yards receiving per game. The Broncos unit nearly shut out Boldin and Smith the last time the two teams met, limiting the duo to just 14 yards receiving.
Broncos Offensive Line vs. Ravens Pass Rush
The Denver Broncos tout one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Peyton Manning has only been sacked 21 times this year, which ranks near the bottom of the league.
On the other side, the Baltimore Ravens have one of the best pass rushes in the league thanks to the likes of Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger. The latter is the team's best pass rusher, having racked up nine this season.
In the aforementioned Week 15 matchup, Baltimore was only able to sack Manning twice, still above the average Denver has allowed per game. But that number needs to drastically increase in the Divisional Round in order to prevent Manning from torching a weak secondary.
The pass rush for the Ravens has looked great so far this postseason. Kruger alone racked up 2.5 sacks albeit against a weak Indianapolis line.
That said, there is no reason to believe the Broncos offensive line will be unable to handle the Ravens' pass rush once again. The unit is too good and Manning excels at avoiding pressure and making the defense pay for rushing him.
Ravens Offensive Line vs. Broncos Pass Rush
The Denver Broncos have one of the best pass-rushing units in the league, primarily thanks to Von Miller, who has a very impressive 18.5 sacks on the season.
The defensive unit as a whole for Denver has compiled 52 sacks thanks to the contributions from other underrated performers such as Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe.
To make matters worse for Baltimore, quarterback Joe Flacco, he has been sacked 35 times this season, which ranks in the bottom 10 of the NFL in that category.
Denver only sacked Flacco three times in Week 15, a good sign for the Ravens. A large factor in deciding the game will be whether or not the erratic Baltimore offensive line will be hold up.
Both Denver and Baltimore are sound in the kicking and punting department.
Denver has a reliable kicker in Matt Prater, who has connected on 81 percent of his attempts this year. He's missed four kicks between the 40-49 yardage mark, but he has been money from everywhere else.
When it comes to punting, Denver is just as sound. Britton Colquitt averages 46 yards per punt and has downed the ball inside the 20-yard line 27 times.
Baltimore has found a gem in rookie kicker Justin Tucker, a rookie who has missed just three field goals all year long. His longest connection so far came from 56 yards.
Sam Koch has been efficient for Baltimore since 2006. This year he has a 47-yard average and has downed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The bottom line is that both teams are sound in the kicking game and it would be difficult to give the edge definitively to either one.
Both Baltimore and Denver feature return men that have had tremendous years and account for some of the success their teams have had overall.
Trindon Holliday has been electric for the Broncos. He averaged 11 yards per punt return and has returned one for a touchdown. Holliday is great on kick returns as well, averaging 33 yards per return and scoring one touchdown in said capacity.
Jacoby Jones is a weapon of a returner for Baltimore on special teams. He averages nine yards per return on punts and has taken one back for a touchdown. On kick returns, he averages 31 yards and has returned two for touchdowns.
Overall, both special teams units are sound in blocking for their returners and defending in kick coverage. If one had to choose, Jones provides the bigger impact and could do just that when the two teams meet.
The Ravens are riding high after the return of Ray Lewis and thumping the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round. Under normal circumstances, this would be a massive boost of momentum for the team.
These are not normal circumstances.
Baltimore looks good, but Denver has been playing at elite level of late. The Broncos have not lost a game October 7, meaning the team is riding the momentum of an 11-game winning streak.
While there is something to be said for the team resting during the bye while the Ravens played, a fresh, Peyton Manning-led team that has not lost since October is seemingly unstoppable.
The Broncos and Ravens are healthy at the right time heading into what will be potentially a great game.
Baltimore is finally back at full strength with the return of Ray Lewis. The Broncos have had a week off to rest after dominating for the preceding couple months.
When it comes to health, both of these teams have been extremely fortunate. This means both teams will be at their best when they collide in the Divisional Round.
The contest between the Ravens and the Broncos will be played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
In other words, Denver has a massive advantage.
Not only do the Ravens have to turn around and travel all the way to Denver, the team has to play in conditions it is not used to in a stadium that is, well, a mile high.
The Broncos are perfectly used to these conditions, giving them a huge advantage.
John Fox vs. John Harbaugh
When these two teams met in the regular season, John Fox managed to get the best of John Harbaugh. That story could repeat itself in the postseason.
Harbaugh has done a great job in Baltimore, leading the team to five straight postseason appearances.
Simply put, Fox has a lot more coaching experience than Harbaugh, including coaching in a Super Bowl.
Not to take anything away from what Harbaugh has done, but Fox has the advantage heading into the matchup.
Final advantage tally:
Broncos: Nine advantages
Ravens: Two advantages
Overall advantage: Denver Broncos
It is quite clear that the Broncos have a variety of advantages over the Ravens. Their recent showdown that resulted in a massive Denver win is a good indicator of how things could end up again.
None of this means the Ravens cannot win. Ray Lewis and Co. are not exactly the type to lie down in the face of adversity. It is important that the team learns from their shortcomings in their last meeting with Denver.
At the end of the day, the best team will advance. Whether that is Denver or Baltimore remains to be seen.
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