NFL: 3 Keys to Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos Playoff Matchup

Thomas Atzenhoffer@socceratzCorrespondent IIJanuary 11, 2013

NFL: 3 Keys to Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos Playoff Matchup

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    Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 12, 2013, in an AFC divisional showdown only several weeks removed from crushing the visitors back in Baltimore 34-17.

    Since the opening of the season Manning, his young receiving corps and the rest of the Broncos have proven that they can live up to the hype and are looking to march to the Super Bowl if they can get past the Ravens once again.

    Ray Lewis and his team are sure to give the Broncos a tough test in the veteran defender's potential last ever NFL game, but after their poor defensive showing against the Broncos in their last matchup it draws much to be questioned.

    As the countdown to kickoff draws closer and closer, let’s take a look at the keys to the game.

1. Baltimore's Secondary vs. Peyton Manning

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    The last time these two met, Peyton Manning went after every defensive back that the Ravens have without blinking an eye. Traditionally, the talented game plan executor picks a weakness and focuses on it, but he was firing at will wherever he wanted too.

    Ed Reed played into Manning's hands with his hard-nosed aggressive style and both Cary Williams and Chris Johnson failed to make the grade allowing the veteran quarterback to go at them all night long.

    If the Ravens want to have any chance at all, they have to manage to keep their defensive backs on the straight and narrow to avoid giving Manning any room to work his magic.

2. Winning the Battles at the Line of Scrimmage

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    Not only did the Ravens fail to win the defensive battles at the line of scrimmage against the Broncos a few weeks ago, but they also failed to win any of them offensively until late in the game when the Broncos had obviously taken their foot off the gas.

    The Ravens have to manage to get at Manning more and keep the Broncos' offensive line from pushing them back all night long. Equally, the Ravens offensive line has to open up holes for Ray Rice and allow him to create passing space for team leaders Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin.

3. Being the Team to Get the "Game-Changing" Play

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    In their last meeting, Joe Flacco's costly mistake at the end of the first half allowed the Broncos to go into halftime up 17-0 on the road. A lazy quick out on the opposition's five-yard line with 30 seconds to go proved to be the straw that broke the Ravens back when Chris Harris returned it 98 yards for a Broncos touchdown.

    Had the Ravens run the ball, kicked a field goal or called a timeout, which they had three of; with a 1sy-and-goal, the difference could have been a 10-7 or 10-3 halftime score. Rather the poor decision by player and coaching staff alike resulted in almost handing the game to the Broncos on a platter.

    Both sides have to avoid the costly mistakes of that nature to ensure they have the best chance to win. Denver was lucky not to lose several fumbles against the Ravens and could have given up the game-changing play just as easily as they were lucky to receive it.

Prediction

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    Denver looks like the better team and proved that they could look hardly any better this time against the Ravens than they did last time. There is expected to be renewed will on the side of Baltimore due to the Ray Lewis effect, but the crowd at Mile High is expected to be relentless in support of their Broncos.

    Lewis will try his best, but Manning and his young charges should be able to handle the pressure at home and take themselves to the AFC Championship game against the winner of New England and Houston.

    Denver 30 - 17 Baltimore

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