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Broncos are 9th top seed to stumble since '05

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Broncos are 9th top seed to stumble since '05

DENVER (AP) No one should be surprised that the Super Bowl favorites are already out of the playoffs.

With their 38-35 loss in double-overtime to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, the Denver Broncos became the ninth No. 1 seed in the last eight years to go down in the divisional round.

On Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons nearly became the 10th before escaping Seattle's upset bid in a 30-28 thriller and becoming just the seventh top seed since 2005 to advance to the conference championship.

``I wouldn't say I'm shocked,'' said Peyton Manning, who also lost as a No. 1 seed with Indianapolis in 2005. ``That's not the right word. I'm disappointed.''

Seeds just don't matter anymore.

``That's playoff football, it's do-or-die,'' Denver linebacker Keith Brooking said. ``There are no makeups, there's no `my bad' on that play. You have a bad day, you go home and you deal with it. You're staring an offseason right in the face with nothing to do, except to think about it.''

The Broncos hadn't lost since Oct. 7, winning each of their last 11 regular season games by an average of two touchdowns.

``I feel like we're the best team,'' receiver Brandon Stokley lamented. ``But, in the NFL, it doesn't matter. It's one game and it's whoever plays better. And they played better.''

The Broncos certainly aren't alone in their heartache.

Among the top seeds to have fallen flat in the first playoff game are a 15-1 team, three 14-2 teams and five 13-3 teams - all at home, coming off a bye and facing an opponent that had to travel following a win on wild-card weekend.

The favorites who faltered were led by some of the greatest quarterbacks of our generation, too. Manning and his brother, Eli, have both won Super Bowls and both have been bounced right out of the playoffs. Same with Aaron Rogers and Tom Brady. Others who made early exits are Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Kerry Collins.

To paraphrase the late Vince Lombardi, ``What the heck's going on out here?''

``I have no clue,'' Broncos safety Mike Adams said.

Speaking of Lombardi, no top seed has hoisted the Super Bowl trophy that bears his name since the New Orleans Saints did it in 2009 - the last year the No. 1 seeds in both conferences won in the divisional round.

And not since the `03 Patriots has the team with the best regular-season record won it all.

Maybe the solution is to expand the playoffs, which could pit No. 1 seeds against lesser teams in their playoff openers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn't taken a stance on the issue.

``I think it needs to be evaluated carefully,'' he said. ``... It's got to be special to make the playoffs. It's also got to retain its uniqueness and the importance of all those regular-season games. So, it has to be done very carefully - if we do it.''

The possibility of another 7-9 team making the playoffs like the Seahawks did in 2010 isn't necessarily a deterrent to adding teams to the playoff pool, Goodell said.

``I think it's because of the competitive nature of our league that wild card teams have gone on to win the Super Bowl,'' Goodell said. ``And teams that haven't had great records, if you're hot and you get hot in the second half of the season, you can win the Super Bowl. And I think that's what's changed a lot, and that's why I think it's worthy of evaluation.''

Perhaps the quest to secure a first-round bye shouldn't serve as such an imperative for teams anymore because all that R&R so often translates into rust and ruin.

Manning lost his first playoff appearance with the Broncos (13-4), who wasted the home-field advantage they secured throughout the playoffs by failing to pressure Joe Flacco and negating a record-setting performance by kick returner Trindon Holliday.

It wasn't like the Broncos had rested their regulars down the stretch, either. They didn't secure the No. 1 seed until Week 17, so they never took their foot off the gas, something they were sure would help them keep rolling through January.

``I felt like we went about our business the right way and we had good weeks of practice, were ready to play and the game came down to about 12 plays and they made them and we didn't,'' Stokley said.

The Falcons also played their starters to the end but lost their regular-season finale to Tampa Bay, then got all they could handle from the Seahawks before advancing to the NFL title game, where they'll host San Francisco.

That wild win over Seattle included a TD run, a field goal and a desperation heave into the end zone over the final 31 seconds - the exact amount of time that remained when Broncos coach John Fox decided to have Manning take a knee and settle for overtime on a frostbitten night in Denver after Jacoby Jones' stunning 70-yard TD catch over safety Rahim Moore had tied the game at 35.

``You know what? I agreed with it,'' Stokley said, ``just with the conditions, where we were on the field. The wind was kind of blowing in our face a little bit and they were getting after Peyton and in that situation, I agreed with it and I had no problems with that at all.''

Aside from the Saints three years ago, the five other No. 1 seeds since `05 that managed to win their playoff opener all won their conference championship only go on to lose the Super Bowl.

Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler still searching for his first Super Bowl ring, knew this was his best chance, calling this his ``best team that didn't do anything. It's frustrating, but that's the reality of it. We got to the playoffs but you have to win in the playoffs for it to mean something. So, it's just another year when we came up short.''

Anymore, the odds are simply stacked against the odds-on Super Bowl favorites.

Yet, they still have a better shot than regular-season champs in other sports.

Since the first Super Bowl, the team with the best regular-season record has won 21 of 46 championships, or 46 percent, which is more than in the NHL (42 percent), NBA (41 percent) and MLB (28 percent), according to STATS.

``There's no doubt in my mind that we'll be back and we'll be bigger, stronger, faster, we'll be hardened and ready to go,'' Broncos star linebacker Von Miller said.

But how far?

Of the eight previous No. 1 seeds to falter in their first playoff game, only one - the Patriots in 2011 - recovered from that heartache to reach the Super Bowl the next season, where they lost to the New York Giants.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.

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Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

Mark your calendars now because the Ravens are already gearing up for their 2018 season.

From the Pro-Bowl all the way to the start of the regular season, here are the key dates.

January 28th: Pro Bowl, Orlando, Fla. 

Safety Eric Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will all be in attendance. In addition, Suggs and Weddle were named starters. The game will take place at Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN.

February 3rd: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 Class announced

This will be a very important day for Ray Lewis and the Ravens organization as Lewis waits to here if he will be sealed into football history, one day prior to Super Bowl LII. 

February 5th: Waiver system takes effect

The waiver system allows players' contracts or a club's NFL rights to a player available to other clubs in the league. Upon doing this, the other 31 teams can place a claim to obtain him or waive their chance. During this 24- hour period, once a club waives a player it can not take the player back or change his status. Assignments are based upon draft order until the third week of the regular season. If a player does not get claimed, he becomes a free agent. 

February 20th:  First day to franchise or transition tag a player

February 27th- March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, IN

This seven day period will be crucial for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to get a good look at potential Ravens.

March 6th: Deadline to franchise or transition tag a player

March 12-14th: Teams are allowed to contact and negotiate with agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents

March 14th: Start of new league year at 4:00 p.m. ET

At this time, all 2017 player contracts expire meaning teams can begin seeking and signing free agents. Ravens free agents include Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson, Ryan Jensen, Terrance West, James Hurst, Michael Campanaro, Steven Johnson, Ryan Mallet, Brandon Boykin, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko.

March 25-28th: Owners Meeting, Orlando, FL

April 16th: Voluntary OTA's can begin

April 20th: Deadline for restricted FA's to sign offer sheets

April 26th-28th: 2018 NFL Draft, Arlington, TX

The Ravens will be heading down to Arlington, Texas in hopes of picking up their next franchise player. Positions needed include wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and outside linebacker.

May 4-7th or 11-14th: Potential three-day rookie minicamp

May 31-June 2nd: Ravens Beach Bash, Ocean City, MD

July 16th: Deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player 

Mid-Late July: Training camp begins

August 2nd: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, OH

August 4th: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, OH

Again, keep this date marked as it could be the day Ray Lewis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 6th: Start of regular season