The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs are just around the corner, and somehow, the Baltimore Ravens are the only team playing on a short week as they travel to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos this Saturday at 4:30 pm EST. Baltimore will look to avenge their week 15 thumping at the hands of the Broncos.
In week 15 there were several Ravens that did not play due to injury, especially on the defensive side of the football, and although Baltimore is much more healthy now, the Ravens will still have to play a near perfect game to pull off the upset. I know that any player at any time could ultimately decide the football game with one play, but here are my top five Baltimore Ravens that will determine the outcome of the game.
- #5 Bryant McKinnie – After his wonderful starting performance last week at left tackle, I can not fathom McKinnie not starting this game at left tackle as well. His ability to protect quarterback Joe Flacco and open up holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce will be huge in deciding this football game.
- #4 Ray Lewis – He is not just on this list because if Baltimore loses, it will be the last game of his career, but Denver quarterback Peyton Manning loves to throw over the middle of the field, thus Lewis's ability to cover the middle of the field and force Manning to his second or third receiver will be huge as it will allow Paul Kruger and company more time to get to Peyton and perhaps force a turnover.
- #3 Anquan Boldin – We saw in the second half of the game against the Indianapolis Colts that Boldin, although he has aged and perhaps lost a step or two, he is still a game changer. If not for his second half performance, that game would have been a lot more nerve racking than it was. Boldin will need to be involved early and often against the Broncos, especially if Torrey Smith is being covered by Champ Bailey. If Anquan can reel off 100 yards and a touchdown or two, I like Baltimore's chances.
- #2 Paul Kruger – One thing is for certain, Kruger is going to get paid this offseason when he hits the free agent market as he has become a premier pass rusher the second half of the season and playoffs. He recorded two and a half sacks last week against the Colts, and his ability to get to Manning will not only effect the game, but is going to effect how well the secondary plays. If Kruger can consistently apply pressure on Peyton, the secondary will not have to cover the Broncos wide receivers as long, thus making it harder for the receivers to get open.
- #1 Joe Flacco – Are you really surprised to see Flacco at number one on this list? This does not even need that much explanation, his play will ultimately determine this game. He proved last year in New Engand in the AFC Championship game that he does have what it takes on the road in the playoffs against a world class quarterback, and if not for a Lee Evans dropped touchdown pass, Flacco would have beat Tom Brady in New England to go to the Super Bowl. Now he has to go into Denver and try to beat, perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Peyton Manning. If Flacco wants the big money this offseason, here is his opportunity to prove he is worth it.
There were some players that were very close to cracking this list, such as Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Justin Tucker and Ed Reed just to name a few, but I believe the aforementioned five players will ultimately determine this football game. Denver is currently favored by nine points, but if these five players perform well, anyone who bet on the Ravens will be very happy.
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