We all know that the Ravens have no shot in this game, right? Am I right? I mean, the old eyeball test isn't going to fail us on this one. The Ravens haven't played like a top-flight AFC team for quite some time while Las Vegas has Denver as the favorite to win it all. This game is an afterthought, right?
Probably. However, we always have to keep an open mind if we are predict/handicap the future and we have to be willing to consider any and all plausible options. Let's look at recent history, the important matchups and the potential for the "unexpected" as we lay this out.
Since 2008, Peyton Manning has played the Baltimore Ravens three times:
* The 2010 game was in the playoffs following the 2009 season
Okay, so the recent history doesn't exactly favor the Ravens. I'm only going back to the 2008 season since that is how long Joe Flacco has been quarterbacking that team, and in that time, the Ravens have never beaten Peyton Manning. One time they actually got close to scoring 20 points and that was this year against the Broncos. So at least that's something, right? Right?
In reality, the Ravens have made Manning work pretty hard in his wins, but that was back when the Ravens were a feared defensive unit and those days are gone. At least the Ravens can hang their hat on the fact that Joe Flacco has 2 TDs and 7 INTs in four career games against the Papa John's franchisee. So that didn't really open my eyes to any potential upset possibilities, but maybe the matchups will.
Here is the problem. Peyton Manning is kind of on a roll right now and he's going to be difficult to stop. Manning has an outstanding, young wideout who is fully functional in every aspect of the game in Demaryius Thomas, a big target who Manning is willing to torment teams with in Eric Decker and the squirrelly Brandon Stokley is his mini-Welker when needed. While nobody is going to matchup with Manning and his passing attack all that well, the Ravens actually did a decent job against them the last time out.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, this is Manning's second shot at the Ravens over a five week period and he's had time to digest and reassess everything that he liked and didn't like from their first game. The Ravens don't move their CBs around much so Manning will pick and choose between Cary Williams, Corey Graham and Chris Johnson in terms of who he wants to pick on. My money is on Williams who allowed 6 TDs, 884 yards and had a "burn rate" of 64.9%.
Okay, so the Ravens will probably have a hard time stopping Manning and the passing game, but we already knew that. Maybe the key is going to be getting Joe Flacco going so that he can battle Manning and the Broncos in a shootout! Anquan Boldin was outstanding last weekend and Joe Flacco, while inconsistent, did have strong YPA numbers. With Torrey Smith and Boldin attacking, the Ravens could take some shots down the field and hit a big play that turns into a TD or maybe two.... as long as the protection holds up.
Joe Flacco has been sacked 35 times this year and the tackle combination of Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher gave up 2 of the 3 sacks and multiple pressures in the last game the two teams played. The Broncos finished the season with 52 sacks including 18.5 from Von Miller and 11 from Elvis Dumervil. So I guess what I'm saying is that the average pass protection of the Ravens will have to stop the best edge rushing combination in the game today. And when the Ravens aren't getting pressured from the outside, they will have to deal with rookie DT Derek Wolfe on the inside who finished with 6 sacks and has a terrific motor. The Ravens were +2 in sack differential while the Broncos were +31. So maybe very few, if any, of the matchups are in the Ravens favor.
Well, it has finally come to this. We're trying to find something random that could happen to explain how the Ravens could beat the Broncos. I guess their best shot for "unexpected" plays would lie in the hands of return man Jacoby Jones and legendary free safety, Ed Reed. Reed is the ball-hawkiest of all ball-hawk safeties and you can never rule out an interception and return from him. It might take just that since the efficiency of possessions is clearly in Denver's favor.
Jacoby Jones is going to the Pro Bowl as a return man and if he can find a way to bust a punt return for a TD, that could be yet another "unexpected" play that could potentially swing this matchup into more of a fair fight. Unfortunately, for the Ravens, they might need both things to happen in order for them to win, but we have seen crazier things.
Defensive touchdowns, special teams touchdowns and Flacco hitting the deep ball not once, but at least twice, is quite possibly the best way for the Ravens to win this. I tried to find a way for the Ravens to keep this closely, but there just aren't many open doors in that maze.