Ravens vs. Broncos: Previewing Saturday Afternoon's AFC Divisional Playoff Game

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IJanuary 10, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens talks with quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos following the Broncos 34-17 win at M&T Bank Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Saturday afternoon the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 4-4 away) take on the No. 1 seed and AFC West champion Denver Broncos (13-3, 7-1 home) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver in the first AFC divisional playoff game. The game can be seen at 4:30 PM ET/1:30 PM PT on CBS.

CBS’s No. 2 announcing crew of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will be joined on the sideline by Solomon Wilcots to call the game.

It marks the first playoff game as a Bronco for future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is a top candidate for NFL comeback player of the year and MVP.

Manning had his second-best season in passing yardage this season (4,659 yards, missing his previous best by 41 yards) second-best season in completion percentage (68.6 percent, just 0.2 percent below his career high) and his second-most touchdown passes (37, which came short only of his record-setting 49 in 2004 with Indianapolis).

Manning has played in 19 career playoff games. He has thrown for 5,289 yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His career playoff record is 9-10—including an 0-3 record in games where the temperature is 40 degrees or less at kickoff, as it is expected to be Saturday in Denver according to AccuWeather.

This game could be the last for the Ravens’ franchise leader, Ray Lewis, who announced his retirement prior to Baltimore’s 24-9 victory over Indianapolis in the AFC Wild Card Game. Lewis has won a Super Bowl previously—in 2000—and wants to end his career in similar fashion.

The good news for him is that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 6-4 in the playoffs in his career and has won at least one road playoff game in every season of his career except for last year, when the team hosted a Divisional Round Game and then suffered through a devastating 23-20 loss at New England in the AFC Championship Game.

The two teams matched wits in Week 15—a 34-17 victory for the visiting Broncos. In that game, Manning was 17-of-28 for 204 yards (a season low) and a touchdown. The Ravens were missing Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshall Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson.

Each player is now healthy and ready to play. Baltimore has to overcome a large discrepancy in terms of points scored and allowed compared to Denver.

Denver averaged 30.1 points per game and allowed just 18.1 (a 12-point difference) compared to Baltimore’s 24.9 to 21.5 (a 3.4-point difference).

To do that, it’s going to have to lean on veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught five passes for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. In eight career playoff games, Boldin has caught 35 passes for 571 yards and four touchdowns.

It will also have to rely on running back Ray Rice, who in nine career playoff games has just 512 yards on 122 carries (4.2 average) but 30 catches for 255 yards. He has four total touchdowns.

The two must figure out ways to defeat a defense that gives up miniscule amounts of yards per play—5.2 yards on 559 passes against and 3.6 on 404 rushing attempts.

Denver has two great playmakers of its own in third-year receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Each had over 1,000 yards receiving (1,434 for Thomas and 1,064 for Decker), with Decker finding the end zone the second most times in the league, 13, and Thomas 10 times.

The winner of the contest heads to the AFC Championship Game. Denver would host the winner of the Texans-Patriots game, while Baltimore would travel to face the winner of that contest.