Two of the AFC’s premier teams battle each other on Sunday morning – and the Broncos are one of them. Here’s my prediction for how this important clash will unfold, quarter-by-quarter.
The Broncos don’t really need to beat the Ravens, but they clearly want to. If they are not victorious on Sunday morning they can all but rule out a playoff bye. If Denver aims to keep the #1 and #2 seeds in sight they must topple Baltimore at their place.
The Ravens will be without their emotional leader, Ray Lewis. Though his skills have declined, Lewis provides the Ravens with a particular spark that they will undoubtedly miss. Peyton Manning poses a major threat to any defense so the Ravens could have used all hands on deck.
Baltimore has proven to be more vulnerable defensively than their reputation would indicate. The Broncos should have success in the passing game. I’m more dubious about the rushing attack. I foresee Knowshon Moreno finding limited success. While I anticipate Manning will have around 300 yards passing and deliver two TD strikes, I believe Knowshon will be held out of the end zone and produce fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
The Broncos will start out somewhat slowly, as they tend to do. The offense won’t really start clicking until the second half. The Ravens, on the other hand, will get their fans excited by opening up their offense early in an attempt to jump out on Denver. This will result in some scoring for Baltimore, but also a turnover. After opening up a 7-0 lead and regaining possession, Joe Flacco will throw an interception that allows Denver to get into scoring position easily. The Broncos will play too conservatively early and trail 7-3 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter Denver will hold Baltimore to one additional score, probably a running TD by Ray Rice who will amass nearly 150 yards of total offense on the day. Unfortunately, Denver will also score only once, on a Jacob Tamme touchdown reception from Manning. They’ll trail at the half 14-10.
The third quarter has been “Manning time” in recent weeks. Once again, against the Ravens, #18 will light it up coming out of half time and complete TD passes to Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Stokely. The Ravens will manage only to score a single field goal in the period. Denver will head into the final quarter boasting a less-than-comfortable 24-17 lead.
In a sloppy fourth quarter, highlighted by turnovers by both teams and a number of punts, each club will manage only to scrape together field goals – two for the Broncos and one for the Ravens. Baltimore will turn the ball over on downs once as well, having eschewed a late FG attempt in favor of going for it.
Final score, Denver 30, Baltimore 20.