The day has finally come, playoff day as the Baltimore Ravens are in the Mile High city to take on the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship game next week. Baltimore is a big underdog today, but don't ask the Ravens if they care.
As is the case in any game, there are some key matchups to watch for that will ultimately determine the outcome of this game.
- Ravens defensive front seven vs Broncos rushing offense – Baltimore's ability to stop the Denver running game will be a huge factor in this football game. If the Ravens can stop the run and force Peyton Manning to be one dimensional, it will severely help their chances.
- Joe Flacco and Jim Caldwell vs the road – This will be the first real time that Flacco and Caldwell will be on the road together with Caldwell as the offensive coordinator as Flacco only played two series in Cincinnati in week 17. It is no secret that the Ravens offense has been consistently inconsistent on the road, thus it will be interesting to see how Caldwell and Flacco work together to change Baltimore's fortunes.
- Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce vs Broncos defensive front seven – Rice and Pierce's ability to run the football effectively will be a huge factor in this game. If both of them can compliment each other and effectively run the football, helping Baltimore pick up first downs, keep Manning on the sidelines, and win the time of possession battle, I really like the Ravens chances.
- Ray Lewis vs bionic arm – We all saw last week that Lewis is as motivated as ever to take his last ride all the way to New Orleans, but the brace on his arm did keep him from doing everything he usually does. He dropped an easy interception, and nearly batted a ball down, that if he did not have the brace on, he would have been able to fully extend his arm and bat the pass down. If Lewis can make those plays against the Broncos, it will be huge because the middle of the field will not be open for Manning.
- Ravens O-Line vs Broncos pass rush – The Ravens offensive line is coming off of its best performance of the year last week against the Colts as they started Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and moved Michael Oher to right tackle and boy did it pay dividends. Baltimore will start the same offensive line today against the Broncos and their ability to open running lanes for Rice and Pierce and keep Joe Flacco off the ground will be one of, if not the biggest factors in the game.
Baltimore is looking to avenge a 34-17 thumping courtesy of the Broncos in week 15 and keep Ray Lewis's final ride going. Although the Ravens are a nine point underdog, I am predicting that Baltimore will shock the world today with a 24-16 victory and advance to the AFC Championship for the second straight season.
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