A five game improvement and an MVP season from Petyon Manning has catapulted the Denver Broncos to the AFC’s top seed , but it’s their defense that can lead them to the Super Bowl.
Denver will take on the inspired Baltimore Ravens Saturday afternoon at Sports Authority at Mile High in an AFC Division Round playoff. The winner will moves on to the AFC Championship gave against either the New England Patriots or Houston Texans.
Manning totaled the second most yards in a single season of his career, along with the league’s highest completion percentage, and 37 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Yet the Denver defense has arguably been the most consistent and punishing in the league this season. The Broncos are third overall against the pass and rush, second in yards and fourth in points allowed per game, and first in third down conversion rate.
Twenty-three-year-old linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil combined for 29.5 sacks this season, and cornerback Chris Harris had 12 passes defended with three interceptions, and two of them for touchdowns. Then throw in linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who led the team with 117 total tackles and three interceptions.
And they’re on a week’s rest.
Baltimore clearly forgot about their late season struggles last week once linebacker Ray Lewis made his return, and announced he will retire at season's end.
The Ravens dominated the Indianapolis Colts in their 24-9 Wild Card victory, holding the NFL’s sixth best passing game to zero touchdowns, and picking off Rookie of the Year candidate quarterback Andrew Luck.
Baltimore did survive two lost fumbles by running back Ray Rice, more than double his total for the season, but Bernard Pierce picked up the slack with 103 yards on 13 carries.
Receiver Anquan Boldin snagged five balls for 145 receptions and the touchdown that sewed up a Baltimore victory with just over nine minutes left in the fourth.
Quarterback Joe Flacco will look to repeat his 282 yards two touchdown performance against Denver’s ceaseless pass rush.
Manning has two career postseason starts against the Ravens. The last time Manning and Lewis squared off was 2009, with the then Colts quarterback totaling 246 yards for two touchdowns and a pick in a 20-3 victory.
The game kicks-off at 4:30 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast by CBS.
Betting Odds: Denver is favored by 10 points.
Over/Under: 46.5 points
Prediction: Baltimore will once again rise to the occasion for Lewis, but their success will hinge on Rice's ability to run the ball and keep Manning off the field. Flacco must also avoid turnovers, while the Ravens defense cuts off Manning's passes to the middle of the field. Denver should fight off a strong first half from the Ravens and pull away late in the third quarter for a win.
Predicted Score: Denver 27, Baltimore 20