Ravens could be team of destiny
When the Broncos were 4-3, I predicted in this very column that they’d win nine straight games to finish out the year. They did. And they did so in dominant fashion, too, becoming the first team in NFL history to win 10 straight games by at least seven points. Denver was so overpowering over the season’s second half that it’s difficult to recall that back in September, this was a very average team.
Denver was beaten on a Monday night in Atlanta in Week 2, handled at home by the Texans in Week 4 and outcoached and outmanned by the Patriots in Week 5. Since that Week 5 game against New England, I hate to break this — they haven’t really played anyone.
Outside of Baltimore and Cincinnati — two teams that were struggling mightily prior to facing Denver — the Broncos’ opponents since Week 5 had a combined record of 32-64 this season. Sweeping the NFC North or the NFC East is a major accomplishment. A statement. Beating Oakland, Kansas City, and San Diego twice isn’t exactly sacking Rome.
Since that stretch, Denver’s opponents haven’t exactly been Murderer’s Row. Yes, they blew all these teams out. And sure, Manning and the defense looked as good as they had all season against the Ravens in Week 15. But Baltimore’s been tested and knocked around over the past few months. They’ve been in close games. They’ve been forced to dig deep and pull victories out. They had to beat a good Giants team in a must-win game and did. They had to beat a hot Colts team a week ago and did.
The Ravens are no doubt battle tested. Denver? They’ve been in cruise control since October. If Saturday’s game is close in the second half, are we certain the Broncos will respond under pressure? I know Baltimore’s been through those wars this year. Denver? Eh, it feels like it’s been decades since they’ve faced any sort of adversity. For the first time all season, Baltimore’s actually healthy on defense, too. With the exception of Lardarius Webb and potentially linebacker Danell Elerbee, all of Baltimore’s key defensive stars will be in action, ready to go. Last Sunday’s 24-9 win over the Colts marked the only game this season that the Baltimore defense had Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Ed Reed in the lineup together. They all played well. Younger veterans Paul Kruger and Corey Graham played even better.
Baltimore isn’t supposed to win Saturday’s game in Denver. If Las Vegas sportsbooks are any sort of indication, this game’s not even supposed to be close. But I covered a Steelers team that rode a veteran’s last ride into Indianapolis and beat Peyton Manning in the 2005 divisional round. I covered a Giants team last year that waltzed into Lambeau and Salsa danced out as victors. I was in that Ravens locker room on Sunday. There was a certain unity — a certain desperation — that reminded me of both of those teams.
I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
What a crock of crap, just like their saying Manning is wearing glove because his hand hurts went it is cold out. They'll do anything to make this a more compelling match up.