The Denver Broncos have been dominating lately. However, for people to remember their incredible season, Denver needs to win at least one playoff game.
They have home-field advantage locked up and a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens coming up. Baltimore won the AFC North and finished 10-6, before beating the Colts 24-9 in the AFC Wild Card Round. It's safe to say the Colts aren't as good as the Broncos, but Denver can't take Baltimore lightly.
Baltimore is motivated, since if they lose, it will probably be Ray Lewis' last game. They have talent, in the form of Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Lewis and others. That's not to say that Denver can't match the talent Baltimore has, but they can't overlook the Ravens.
Denver subjugated Baltimore in Week 15 on the road, constructing a 31-3 lead in the third quarter, one they would not relinquish. The Broncos only received 204 passing yards from Peyton Manning, but he wasn't needed for the last, say, 20 minutes.
Knowshon Moreno shredded a weak running defense, and Chris Harris intercepted Joe Flacco and took it 98 yards to the house for a touchdown. The Broncos only got one touchdown from Manning, but two from the running game and one from the defense was more than enough.
In the playoffs, Manning is 2-0 against the Ravens, and he will be able to shred the Baltimore secondary. Denver has two top-notch receivers in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but Baltimore doesn't have two top-notch cornerbacks. In Week 15, Decker matched up with Cary Williams, and he had a field day.
If the game is closer, Manning will definitely throw for more than 204 yards, and he will be hooking up with Thomas and Decker often. And, he has Dreessen and Tamme as well.
On offense, Denver should be able to establish the run or pass and mix up the play calls to keep Manning and Moreno effective. They will get going on offense, and it's pretty safe to say that Denver can dominate on defense too.
If the Broncos can intimidate Flacco from the start, things will be a lot easier. And they have some guys that know how to intimidate opposing quarterbacks, like Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Denver allowed an average of 18.1 PPG and finished second in total defense, and it helps that in Week 15, Joe Flacco had the 2nd-lowest QBR of the season (for any player).
Flacco won't be comfortable with Denver's defense, and even though he is an experienced playoff quarterback, I still don't see him coping well with the pressure of playing from behind in a wild environment against Peyton Manning. However, Flacco can handle the Denver defense, and he has a weapon in Dennis Pitta, who had a career day (even though most of his yardage came in garbage time) against the Broncos in their earlier matchup.
Manning and the Broncos had some trouble with starting quickly earlier in the season, but against Cleveland and Kansas City in the final two weeks of the season, the offense got going quickly and started the game by putting points on the board. Doing that against the Ravens will work wonders, as it will limit the run game while putting the weight of the Ravens on the shoulders of Flacco.
Playing on the road against a more talented team isn't fun. Playing on the road against a more talented team while losing is dreadful, and any bad breaks deflate the momentum. The crowd helps deflate opponent momentum, so Baltimore will need a whole lot of motivation (from Ray Lewis and others), and a whole lot of good breaks.
A lot of the time the better team loses, and it happens in the Super Bowl and the playoffs a lot. But Denver is miles ahead of Baltimore, and they now have a lethal running weapon in Knowshon Moreno. Baltimore knows Moreno tore them up in Week 15, so they will probably be focused on him. And that will open up passing lanes for Manning, who will have Decker and Thomas open a lot against a relatively weak secondary.
It takes talent to win a playoff game, and Baltimore won a playoff game. But they have a ton of obstacles to overcome, and I don't see it happening. Denver is the more talented team with more momentum and the crowd on their side, and it will take a lot for the Ravens to upstage the Super Bowl favorites.
And by a lot, I mean almost everything to go their way. And that doesn't happen when the Broncos are the opponents.
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