In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don’t hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
The Ravens, at least the confident/crazy ones, said Sunday that they were pulling for a rematch with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the top-seeded AFC team that clobbered the Ravens during their current 11-game winning streak. We will soon find out which category -- confident or crazy -- those players fall into.
Here’s what we do know: If the Ravens go into Denver and beat the red-hot Broncos, they will have earned it.
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As we saw back in Week 15, the Broncos are maybe the most complete team in the NFL. Manning looks like, well, Peyton Manning. The Denver running game is efficient enough to keep defenses on their heels. The Broncos are good against the run and against the pass, and led by Von Miller, they led the NFL with 52 sacks. Plus, home-field advantage truly is significant here, as the Broncos are 13-3 all-time in home playoff games.
In case you are tone deaf and also do not have a subscription to our newspaper, I picked the Broncos to win this one, though I do think the Ravens have a chance if quarterback Joe Flacco brings his A-plus game and the defense can shove Manning off the field. Since I have predicted a 30-20 season-ending loss, I have thrown in two bonus predictions this week, giving me two more things that I can potentially be wrong about.
1. JOE FLACCO WILL OUTGAIN PEYTON MANNING
I wrote in the aftermath of the win over the Colts that Flacco would have to play even better than he did in the second half of the Colts to beat Manning and the Broncos. And you know what? I think Flacco will deliver, even if he doesn’t get a win to show for it. Flacco outplayed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the playoffs last season, and he has thrown for an average of 255 passing yards in his past three postseason games and had two touchdown passes in each of those games. Manning will get his yards, too, assuming it isn’t a blowout. But I think Flacco will rise to the occasion with one of his best performances of the season.
2. KNOWSHON MORENO WILL OUTGAIN RAY RICE
Ray Rice has surprisingly been average during the playoffs, something I wrote about this week after he lost two fumbles in Sunday’s win. Rice has rushed for 514 yards on 122 career playoff carries, and if you take away that unforgettable run against the New England Patriots three years ago, Rice has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. The Ravens running attack has been pretty productive since the last time these two teams met, and I’m sure they will try to be balanced offensively if the score allows it. But I see Moreno getting more carries and piling up more than 100 yards -- even if it is just at a clip of four yards per pop.
3. VON MILLER WILL HAVE AT LEAST THREE SACKS
The Ravens were able to keep Miller, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, from sacking Flacco in their previous meeting, but Miller spent a lot of time in the backfield as the Broncos harassed Flacco every other throw. In that matchup, it was rookie offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele who was at right tackle. This time it will be Michael Oher who will often draw the matchup against Miller, who is fast, strong, flexible and smart, which why he was third in the league with 18.5 sacks this season. No Ravens offensive lineman has allowed more pressure than Oher this season, so don’t be surprised if Miller eats Oher’s lunch on Saturday.
4. THE BRONCOS WILL WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
One reason why the Ravens were able to win games back when they allowed about 400 yards per game was that they won the turnover battle. Only one team, the Washington Redskins, turned the ball over less than the Ravens, who had 25 takeaways and a plus-nine turnover differential during the regular season. Forced turnovers played a big role in the win over the Colts. Of course, the Ravens also gave the ball away twice, and similar generosity would cost them against the Broncos. I can see Rice, who has five fumbles in eight playoff games, coughing it up, and Flacco might give the ball away, too, if he is under siege like he was in Week 15.
BONUS PREDICTION 1: RAVENS TIGHT ENDS WILL HAVE MORE TOTAL YARDS THAN WIDEOUTS
Don’t be surprised if a tight end is Flacco’s leading receiver. Dennis Pitta had seven catches for 125 yards and two scores last time, something that will hopefully inspire to put Pitta and Ed Dickson on the field together.
BONUS PREDICTION 2: JUSTIN TUCKER WILL KICK THE LONGEST FIELD GOAL IN RAVENS HISTORY
If you haven’t heard, this game will be played at a high altitude. Sure, the temperatures will be in the teens, but the Ravens might ask Tucker to let it rip from beyond 56 yards. If they do I bet the rookie kicker connects.