For the entire the season, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his return from four neck surgeries has been pegged as the main reason for the team’s No. 1 seed in the AFC.But while Manning has had an MVP caliber season, it’s the Denver defense that has made them the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
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, with two of them returned for touchdowns.
Then throw in linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who led the team with 117 total tackles and three interceptions, and the Baltimore Ravens have reason to be worried in their AFC Divisional playoff game Saturday.
In their Week 15 34-17 victory, Harris broke off a 98-yard interception return in with 15 seconds left in the first half that broke Baltimore’s back. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went 20-for-40 for 254 yards and a 76.5 passer rating, with a pick and a fumble lost. The Broncos defense also held Baltimore to 56 rushing yards, but did give up two late touchdowns that were cause for concern to defensive leader and veteran All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey.
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Bailey told the Denver Post that Baltimore may have found a rhythm under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, making their blowout victory irrelevant.
"I think they're getting comfortable and settled in (with Caldwell)," Bailey said to the Denver Post. "You don't see the offense being changed. But I think guys are comfortable with his play calling."
Bailey stressed he wants his defense to play the entire game, fearing that even a slight let up against the Ravens could be cause for disaster.
Bailey’s concern regarding Flacco is warranted despite the Ravens struggles at the end of the season. Flacco threw for a career-high 3,817 yards and 317 completions this season, and in three career starts against Denver has a 60 percent completion rate.
Miller and Dumervil wil be the key against a Baltimore offensive line that gave up 38 sacks this season, 20th overall in the NFL. Now in his second season out of Texas A&M, Miller already has 30 career sacks in 31 games, and has now recorded at least one sack in five straight games.