Most pundits and fans expect the Broncos to win this game to advance to the AFC Championship game where they will host either the New England Patriots or the Houston Texans. CBSSportsline's panel of experts almost unanimously picked the Broncos to defeat the Ravens. Seven out of eight columnists picked the Broncos to win straight-up to advance to their first AFC Championship game since 2005.
Obviously, the Broncos are favored to win, and for good reason. Peyton Manning is coming off of one of the finest seasons of his career. Manning is in a head-to-head battle with Minnesota Vikings runningback Adrian Peterson for MVP of the 2012-13 season. If Manning is to be voted MVP, it would be an NFL-record fifth time.
The Broncos are currently on an 11-game winning streak, clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC after starting out the season at just 2-3 and are the only team in the NFL that ended the regular season ranked in the top-5 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
It would seem the Broncos are unstoppable at this point, right?
The 2011-12 Packers were threatening to go undefeated during the regular season before stumbling versus the mediocre Kansas City Chiefs led by mid-season free agent pickup Kyle Orton in Week 15. Nonetheless, they still went on to win their final two games of the regular season to finish 15-1.
They would end up hosting the New York Giants, a team that got into the playoffs on the final week of the season at a 9-7 record. The Giants would end up dominating the Packers at Lambeau Field before going on to win their second Super Bowl in the span of five years.
So certainly anything can happen—as unlikely as it seems.
The Ravens enter this game after having defeated the Indianapolis Colts 24-9. The Ravens didn't look spectacular, having been locked into a tight game before finally pulling away in the fourth quarter. Baltimore ended the regular season with a 10-6 record after starting out the season 9-2, winning just one of their final five games.
However, they do have players back that they missed during that stretch due to injury such as key defensive players like linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, and safety Bernard Pollard.
What do the Ravens need to do in order to end the Broncos' 11-game winning streak? What does Baltimore have to do to upset the heavily-favored Broncos and to ensure that Ray Lewis' career does not end at Mile High Stadium on Saturday?
Win the time of possession battle.
Does that mean if the Ravens win the time of possession battle, that they will automatically advance to the AFC Championship game?
No. But it does go a long way towards at least ensuring that the Ravens will remain competitive in the game with a chance to knock off the Broncos.
Denver thrives off of an offense predicated upon rhythm, timing and repetition. The Broncos were able to embark on this current 11-game winning streak, because they seemingly always dominated the clock and kept the opposing offenses off the field, while wearing down the opposing team's defense.
One major reason why the Broncos were able to defeat the Ravens 34-17 in Week 15 at M&T Bank Stadium was because Denver's offense simply kept Baltimore's offense off of the field. Denver won the time of possession battle 38:34 to 21:26, and therefore the game.
Aided by great defense, a superb running game by Knowshon Moreno---where he ran for 118 yards on 22 carries and a quiet, but efficient game by Manning where he didn't turn the ball over---the Broncos were able to make it a one-offense show for most of the afternoon.
Broncos Featured Columnist Jon Heath went in-depth about how Denver's offense operates, what Peyton Manning likes to do and how the Ravens can disrupt Denver's rhythm on offense.
If the Ravens are to have any chance of advancing to the next round, Baltimore's defense—now that they're healthier—will have to find a way to disrupt Denver's offense and get them off of the field in order to give Joe Flacco and Baltimore's offense more of an opportunity to score points and get into a rhythm.
Baltimore's offense was not afforded this opportunity in Week 15 when the Ravens lost 34-17 to the Broncos at home in dropping their third-straight game.
If the Ravens are to pull off the upset, Flacco and Co. will need to be afforded the opportunity to match with Denver's No. 2-ranked offense.
If it's a repeat of what transpired in Week 15 with the Broncos dominating the time of possession battle, the Ravens will be going home early this January.