DENVER – The Ravens open their season as underdogs on the road against the Broncos. It’s a marquee season-opening matchup between two AFC Super Bowl contenders. How will it play out? Here are three keys for both teams, and my prediction:
THE RAVENS WILL WIN IF:
1. Joe Flacco throws 30 passes or fewer.
The Ravens have won 10 straight when Flacco has 30 attempts or less. If that happens against the Broncos, it will likely mean running back Justin Forsett is having a big day, and that the Ravens’ aren’t playing from behind. A balanced attack is he Ravens’ best chance..
2. WR Steve Smith has at least 50 yards receiving.
That doesn’t seem like a high number for Smith. But the Broncos will do everything in their power to nullify Smith, and to make another Ravens receiver beat them. If Smith still has an impact, I like the Ravens’ chances. In games in which Smith had 50 yards or more last season, the Ravens were 9-1.
3. The Ravens’ defense holds Peyton Manning and the Broncos to 24 points or less.
The Ravens have won seven straight when keeping opponents from surpassing 24. But the defense has a new look. Tackle Haloti Ngata (Lions) and linebacker Pernell McPhee (Bears) are gone. With tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) out, rookie tackle Carl Davis will start, and Will Hill and Kendrick Lamar will make their debut as the starting tandem at safety. Can this defense keep the Broncos from exploding? If they only get 24 or less, I say the Ravens win.
THE BRONCOS WILL WIN IF:
1. They keep linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil away from Manning:
Even if they don’t sack Manning, Suggs and Dumervil have to hurry Manning and throw off his timing. If they can’t, it could be a long day for the Ravens’ defense.
2. Pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have a big day.
The main challenge for the Ravens’ offensive line will be keeping Miller and Ware away from Flacco. The Ravens’ line returns all five starters. They will earn their money today.
3. The Ravens can’t matchup with the Broncos wide receivers
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both had over 1,400 yards last season. Even if Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith plays at a high level, can nickel corner Lardarius Webb and nickel corner Kyle Arrington keep from getting picked on?
PREDICTION: This is a tough Week 1 assignment for the Ravens. I see them playing well, but not well enough. Broncos 31, Ravens 24.
MORE RAVENS: Will WR Smith avoid another skirmish with Talib?