The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a convincing victory over Peyton Manning's former team, the Indianapolis Colts, as they prepare to face his current team, the Denver Broncos. The Divisional Round matchup is a rematch from the regular season.
In that first meeting, the Broncos turned the tide in their favor for good late in the first half when Chris Harris intercepted Joe Flacco and took in 98 yards for the score. Denver won by 17, illustrating the small margin for error Baltimore has on Saturday.
Ray Lewis didn't play in that game. The legendary linebacker, who will call it quits whenever the Ravens' playoff run ends, returned last week and racked up a team-leading 13 tackles. He will need to lead the charge again this week.
Which team will advance?
Here's a look at all the vital information for the last postseason battle between Manning and Lewis, followed by some game predictions.
When: Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo.
Live Stream: NFL Audio Pass
Spread: Broncos -9.5 (via Vegas Insider)
Even though the Broncos won by 17 in the previous meeting, it's important to take into account how important the aforementioned pick-six by Harris was. The Ravens could have closed the gap to three at halftime, but instead the deficit was 17.
So one play was the difference between a blowout and a three-point game. And that was without Lewis. While he's not the same player he was during his prime, his return last week certainly seemed to energize the team's defense.
Taking those factors into account, the Ravens should be able to keep it close enough to cover the spread. It has the feel of a one-score game, especially if the Broncos get off to a slow start like so many bye teams do as they shake off the rust.
Over/Under: 46.5 (via Vegas Insider)
The oddsmakers nailed this line because it's a game that will probably end up in the 20s for both sides. The first meeting total was 51. While it will be close, picking the over should once again be the way to go in the rematch.
Manning and Co. are going to score their fair share of the points. The pick basically comes down to whether or not the Ravens will be able to keep pace for long enough to push it over. Given their success in the second half last time, they should do exactly that.
Although Baltimore would love to control the pace and make it a low-scoring affair, the Broncos aren't going to let that happen. It will be one of those lines that isn't decided until the final minutes, but over is the way to go.
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Ravens: LB Dannell Ellerbe (questionable, ankle), WR Torrey Smith (questionable, back), RB Bernard Pierce (questionable, ankle) and LB Terrell Suggs (probable, Achilles)
Broncos: RB Willis McGahee (out, knee), CB Tracy Porter (out, concussion), WR Trindon Holliday (probable, ankle) and G Chris Kuper (probable, ankle)
Ravens Player to Watch: Ray Rice
Rice enters the game with a heavy burden on his shoulders to carry the Ravens defense. It will be amplified even more if Bernard Pierce, who's listed as questionable with an ankle injury, is limited or can't go at all.
While Baltimore won't be able to completely shut down the Broncos, it must at least ensure the game doesn't become a shootout. That starts with feeding the ball to Rice early and often to establish a reasonable pace and keep Manning off the field.
The diminutive powerhouse ran for just 38 yards on 12 carries in the first meeting, as he got a taste of the third-ranked Denver run defense. He must have a much better performance on Saturday to give his team a chance.
Broncos Player to Watch: Von Miller
After an impressive rookie season, Miller took his game to another level in his second year, showing no signs of the dreaded sophomore slump. He finished the regular season with 68 tackles, 18.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
His job in the Divisional Round is putting constant pressure on Flacco. If the Broncos can force the mistake-prone Ravens quarterback into one key mistake, that should be enough to move the needle in their favor, just like the first time.
Miller, along with pass-rushing partner Elvis Dumervil, should be able to take advantage of an offensive line that's allowed 39 sacks, counting the playoffs. Expect the Texas A&M product to wreak havoc on Saturday.
Which side has the edge?
Key to Victory: Broncos' passing attack
It took some time, which wasn't a surprise, but when Manning finally got on the same page with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker it was like poetry in motion. Both receivers finished with over 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
When you add in secondary receiving options like Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen, it clear the Ravens have their hands full. Manning has confidence in all of those guys to make plays in key moments, which will spread the defense thin.
The vaunted Baltimore defense ranked just 17th against the pass and gave up 288 yards to Andrew Luck last week. They were able to keep Luck to field goals, though. They won't be as fortunate against one of the best quarterbacks in history.
Broncos 27, Ravens 20