Billie Frechette: They're looking at me because they're not used to having a girl in their restaurant in a $3 dress.
John Dillinger: Listen, doll. That's 'cause they're all about where people come from. The only thing that's important is where someone's going.
- Public Enemies
The above quote could aptly describe Baltimore heading into Mile High this weekend.
The Ravens ousted the Colts in the opening round of the playoffs, but a hearty contingent is eying the squad like they don't belong in the postseason. Losing four of their last five regular-season contests could have something to do with the sentiment. Or that the team dismissed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after Week 14, an almost-unprecedented move for a 9-4 division leader.
Even last Sunday's win came with some skepticism, as the Ravens were handed a gift with Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians absent from the sidelines.
While all are genuine reservations for the Ravens, the biggest question mark remains under center. Despite five seasons of evidence, Baltimore fans still aren't sure what to make of quarterback Joe Flacco. Judging by the box sores, the signal-caller is a fairly solid performer, evidenced by over 3,800 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012.
For comparison, Flacco's opposite last weekend, Indianapolis neophyte Andrew Luck, has received nothing but accolades this season, yet threw for 23 scores and 18 picks.
Though he's not considered an upper-echelon arm, plenty of teams would vie for Flacco's services if he hits free agency this offseason.
Nevertheless, if Baltimore fails to reach the Super Bowl, the blame won't go to a deteriorating defense that is more bark than bite.
The onus, perhaps unfairly, will fall on Flacco and the offense. Luckily for Flacco, having Ray Rice in the backfield never hurts, and the emergence of backup Bernard Pierce has given Baltimore a nasty one-two punch. Receiver Torrey Smith is one of the best long-ball threats in the game, and as illustrated last weekend, Anquan Boldin has plenty of gas left in the tank.
But a subpar performance could indicate the end of Flacco's time in Maryland, putting extra emphasis on an already heightened atmosphere.
Flacco won't be the only field general feeling the heat this weekend.
The revival of Peyton Manning has been one of the most followed narratives on the gridiron this season, as the perennial Pro Bowler was able to bounce back from neck surgery to submit one of the finest campaigns of his career.
After a so-so start, the ever-improving rapport between Manning and the rest of the offense provided dividends, with the Broncos reeling off 11 consecutive wins and securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Given the somewhat controversial acquisition of Manning last offseason, it appears John Elway's gamble has paid off.
Or should we note, "so far?"
For as celebrated as Manning's production has been during the fall, winter has been a different tale. The playoff triumphs have been few and far between for the 36-year-old quarterback, and if it wasn't for the, ahem, "performance" of Rex Grossman, Manning could very well be without a Lombardi Trophy.
There's no doubting his place among the greats of the game, but capturing his second title will silence more than a few whispers regarding the venerable Manning.
Helping Manning in this journey is one of the AFC's most daunting resistances. Led by second-year stud Von Miller, the Broncos surrendered a paltry 18.1 points per game, best in the conference. As Denver finished with the third-fewest yards surrendered in the air (199.6 yards per contest) AND ground (91.1 yards per outing), it will be hard for Baltimore to find a weakness in this 2012 edition of the Orange Crush.
So who comes out on top in this Rocky Mountain melee? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Broncos get the best of the Ravens 66.9 percent of the time, winning by an average margin of 25-19.
|AFC Divisional: Ravens at Broncos|
|Matchup||Win%||Avg Score||WIS Interactive|
|@ Denver Broncos||66.9||25||Simulate Game|
Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.
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