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Old 01-28-2010, 05:57 AM   #1
Bronco Rob
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Default Playoffs of the 2000s: Denver vs. Baltimore

Playoffs of the 2000s: Denver vs. Baltimore

1/27/2010 1:00 PM ET By R.J. White

We're back with the third wild-card game from our Playoffs of the 2000s series. This game includes a team that's struggled to get back to the playoffs lately and a team that squeaked into this year's playoffs, won a road game in the first round, and ultimately fell to AFC champion Indianapolis.

We drew our playoff teams from JJ Cooper's NFL Standings for the Decade article that ran a few weeks back on this site. If you focus on recent history, you would probably imagine that San Diego would have came away as the winner in the AFC West, but think again. Denver was good enough in the early part of the decade that they posted eight more wins than the Chargers, despite San Diego's huge run at the end of this season, the last in the 2000s.

Tuesday, we asked if you remembered the name of the Vikings kicker from their playoff teams at the beginning of the decade. The answer of course is Mr. Almost Perfect, Gary Anderson. A shiver just ran up the back of every Vikings fan out there.

Wednesday's contest pits the AFC No. 4 seed Denver Broncos against the AFC No. 5 seed Baltimore Ravens.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos made the playoffs four times in the 2000s, with their latest trip ending in defeat in the AFC Championship in 2006 against future champ Pittsburgh. They played in three Wild Card rounds and were the road team in each one, winning none of those contests. In 2006 they played two home games, beating No. 4 seed New England in the divisional round but losing to No. 6 seed Pittsburgh in the next week.

Denver reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons in the middle of the decade, starting in 2003. Jake Plummer was the quarterback of those Bronco teams, and it took quite a while for him to get over the playoff hump. In his first two trips to the playoffs with Denver, the Broncos were destroyed by the Colts, losing the two games by a combined score of 90-34. To be fair, it wasn't even that close, as the Broncos didn't score touchdowns in either of those games till the Colts were at least 30 points ahead. The Broncos fared much better the next year, when one of their multitude of 1,000-yard rushers over the last 15 years churned out two TDs in the Patriots game. A Steeler victory in the AFC championship was never in doubt, as Denver was behind 24-3 at halftime. Mike Shanahan coached the team during all of their playoff appearances.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens reached the playoffs six times in the 2000s, including in each of the last two years. They made the playoffs in the 2000 season as the No. 4 seed, defeating Denver in their Wild Card game on December 31, 2000 by a score of 21-3. The Ravens went on to topple the AFC's No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on the road before dominating the Giants in Super Bowl 35. In their four playoff games that season, the Ravens allowed a total of 23 points. They are 4-1 in the Wild Card round, with three of those wins coming on the road. While on the road during the course of last decade's playoffs, the Ravens are 6-3.

Baltimore may have won the first Super Bowl of the decade (not counting Super Bowl 34, which was contested after the 1999 season), but they were bound and determined not to be a one-and-done team. A trip to the playoffs as the No. 5 seed the next season earned them a 20-3 victory over the Dolphins in the first round before losing to the Steelers. Baltimore lost two consecutive games as the home team over the next four years, but the 2008 Ravens were back and in business. Behind rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the No. 6 seed Ravens beat No. 3 seed Miami and No. 1 seed Tennessee on the road before succumbing to the Steelers (man, talk about having a team's number) in the AFC Championship. The Ravens won one more road Wild Card game with Flacco at the helm this past season. Brian Billick coached the Ravens up until 2007. Jim Harbaugh has led Baltimore to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as head coach.

The Game

We have to consider Plummer's Broncos in this matchup, as they were the Denver team in the span of the 2000s that frequently made the playoffs. Unfortunately, Plummer was often erratic in big spots, and as good as the Bronco offensive line was at that point in the decade, they couldn't win a game themselves. Since Plummer was never one to play conservatively, we'd have to assume he'd take a few chances with the ball. That plays completely into the Ravens' hands.

Baltimore's great run in the 2000s was built on defense, with the team making several playoff runs with different, no-name QBs. Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer was thought of as a game manager, and the team was able to win not because of his superior passing skills, but because he limited his mistakes and let the defense shine.

That's exactly what they would do in this game. The Ravens would keep the pressure on Plummer all game, and Ed Reed would likely end up taking an interception to the house. It's very likely the game would look much like Baltimore's win over Denver in the year 2000 -- a couple rushing touchdowns and one long passing touchdown for the victors and a long, long day for Denver. Despite being the lower-seeded team, the Ravens have a much better playoff resume overall as well as in the Wild Card Round. Baltimore takes this game by the final of 28-6.

Bonus question for tomorrow: the Broncos running back in that game against Baltimore won the Rookie of the Year award that season and also toted the rock for three TDs during their AFC Championship game run later in the decade. Can you name him?

Baltimore advances to face the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts in the second round.
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