A month ago when Denver and Baltimore played each other, the Broncos easily defeated the Ravens 34-17.
With Baltimore legend Ray Lewis retiring at the end of the season, the Ravens have added fuel to win the game for Lewis and send out one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game a champion.
However, standing in Baltimore’s way is Peyton Manning—the man who has caused the Ravens fits for years.
Here are five bold predictions for Saturday’s game between the Ravens and Broncos.
In the earlier game between these two teams, that game may have ended differently had Joe Flacco not thrown a last second interception at the end of the first half.
Down 10-0 with just seconds remaining in the first half and the ball at the Denver 4-yard line, Flacco telegraphed a pass to Anquan Boldin, who was running an out rout. Denver cornerback Chris Harris easily undercut the rout, intercepting the pass and taking it 98 yards for a momentum halting touchdown.
This time around, Flacco is going to have to play one of the best games of his career to beat the Broncos. While Flacco has won at least one playoff game in every year of his five-year career, the quarterback has not been able to win the big games and take the next step in his maturation as a quarterback.
With his contract set to expire, Flacco has been lobbying for a contract extension. This game will play a huge role in whether Baltimore decides to pay Flacco the money he wants.
When he is at his best, Flacco looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Look for Flacco to look like that quarterback Saturday afternoon.
A month ago, Baltimore was without its top three linebackers (Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe) and had to start Josh Bynes and Brendon Ayanbadejo. As a result, Denver running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown.
With Ellerbe and Lewis back, Moreno will have a much harder time finding running lanes.
In truth, Lewis is not the player he once was. While he is still one of the smartest players on the field and can diagnose plays faster than the average player, he is physically limited and has trouble running sideline-to-sideline now.
However, expect Lewis to play inspired and with reckless abandon. He may only be half of what he used to be, but Lewis has enough left in his tank to make a difference.
Ellerbe on the other hand, is an explosive player and a good tackler, who the Ravens desperately missed in that first game.
Expect the return of Lewis and Ellerbe to fuel a defense that feels like it has something to prove.
Also playing with torn biceps, Suggs has been a shell of his former self this season. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs recorded only 22 tackles and two sacks in the eight games he suited up for in the regular season.
While Suggs is pretty much playing with one good leg and one good arm, he is also one of the league’s fiercest competitors and will play through the pain to help his team Saturday.
For opposing pass rushers, sacking Manning has been difficult this season—the Broncos’ offensive line only allowed 21 sacks in the regular season.
One reason Suggs will get to Manning Saturday is the emergence of Paul Kruger as a pass rushing threat opposite of Suggs. In his last nine games (including the postseason), Kruger has sacked the quarterback 10 times.
With the emergence of Kruger as Baltimore’s top pass rusher, Denver will focus more on him, which will give Suggs one-on-one matchups that he will exploit.
Look for Suggs, who has some of his best performances in the biggest of games, to be all over the field Saturday.
On Saturday, Tucker will have the chance to kick in the higher altitude of Denver. The Broncos play their games at Sports Authority Field at Mile High where the elevation is 5,280 feet above sea level.
With the thinner air, footballs tend to travel longer distances in the air—Denver kicker Matt Prater once nailed a 59-yarder.
Tucker, who has one of the strongest legs in the game, converted four kicks of over 50 yards this season, including a 56-yarder. Tucker has also shown amazing poise for a rookie, looking unflappable when he lines up for kicks.
Expect Baltimore to send out its rookie kicker Saturday for some long field goals.
While the popular pick among media members is the Broncos, I am going to go against the grain and pick Baltimore to win by three.
The first meeting between Baltimore and Denver was much closer than many think. Had Flacco not thrown that last second pick in the first half, the game may have ended differently.
The Ravens may be a team of destiny. They are battle tested whereas Denver is not—Baltimore played 10 games against teams with a .500 record or better, where as Denver played six games against teams with a .500 record or better.
Baltimore is the healthiest it has been all season, pointing towards an upset.
Lewis and Suggs both returned from injuries that were thought to be season ending. In addition, the return of Lewis has breathed new life into Baltimore, who is trying to send its leader out a champion.
Entering as the underdog, Baltimore will surprise and shock people as they will leave Denver victorious.