The Ravens & Broncos open the season Sunday with the focus being on the Broncos and Peyton Manning as everyone is curious to see just what he’s capable of after nose-diving in 2014.
The preseason is its own weird and unusual period of time. It’s not generally advisable to use the preseason as a measuring stick unless it involved major injuries to proven players. The Broncos’ injury to Ryan Clady is one they had hoped to avoid. Clady is a very good lineman, and his absence might really matter for Peyton Manning.
All in all, if you go back to the playoffs, Baltimore played better than Denver last season. The Broncos were terrible in their divisional round playoff loss to Indianapolis, while the Ravens played well in a narrow loss at New England. Momentum’s not really a factor here.
This line has been spotted at five points for the Broncos at a few outlets, but the vast majority of places have the Broncos as a 4.5-point choice on the NFL odds board. This seems like a reasonable enough line. The Broncos are favored because they’re at home and do possess a decent amount of depth on both sides of the ball. Baltimore went through a rough preseason, with Joe Flacco continuing to give indications that he’s about to have another typically up-and-down season, one in which you can’t expect anything from him on a weekly basis. Some days he’s going to surprise in a great way, and other days in a bad way. He’s a terrible quarterback to bet on. The Broncos had a lot of injuries on defense last year and did not get what they were expecting from DeMarcus Ware and some of their other top acquisitions. There is a feeling that the Broncos will be more of a defense-based team this season, in which case Ware and others will have more of an impact.
However, there’s a downside in this for Denver: There are growing concerns about how healthy Peyton Manning is and how well he’ll be able to throw deep passes. The book on Manning, as shown by the Indianapolis Colts in their playoff victory over the Broncos last January, is that if you’re physical with the Broncos’ receivers and force the ball out of the middle third of the field, you put a lot of pressure on Manning to throw the deep ball along the sidelines, where he has a very small window in which to fit the ball. Manning likes to be able to use the whole length of the field and use short passes to steadily move the ball. The Ravens might be able to take this away, and if other teams around the NFL get the sense that they can exploit Manning’s physical decline near the end of his career, this could be a long season in Denver. So, the Broncos are not a touchdown or nine-point favorite for a reason.
The Ravens have safety Matt Elam on the injured reserve list. He will not play in this game. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is questionable with a knee injury. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Tight end Dennis Pitta is on the physically unable to perform list with a hip injury. Defensive end Brent Urban is out for the season with a bicep injury.
The Broncos knew months ago that offensive tackle Ryan Clady was out for the season. In addition to that injury, defensive tackle Marvin Austin is on injured reserve with a groin injury. Defensive back T.J. Ward will be suspended for this game, as will defensive end Derek Wolfe. Defensive end Kenny Anunike is questionable with a knee injury. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is probable with a hamstring injury.
Handicapping The Game
The Broncos have the look and feel of a team on its last legs. Will Manning spring into form and be the quarterback he was in the first half of the 2014 season? He certainly could be, but he might finally be at the end of the line, not just in terms of the span of his career, but in terms of having already used up his good years. This might be a long one. Look to Baltimore with Sunday's NFL pick in this game.
Free NFL Pick: Ravens +5 at The Greek