NFL Preview - Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4)|
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - There's Denver Broncos history. And then there's Peyton
And given the drastic difference between them when it comes to the Baltimore
Ravens, it's easy to grasp why fans of the orange-clad Broncos are choosing to
go all in with their quarterback's pedigree.
Denver has lost in each of its last five trips to Maryland's Inner Harbor --
where it will visit the Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium -- including the two
most recent games by a combined 37 points.
Meanwhile, Manning, who arrived in Colorado this season after 13 glorious
years with the Indianapolis Colts, has won eight in a row against Baltimore --
most recently in a divisional playoff contest in January 2010.
Four of those wins came on the Ravens' home field.
Yet, with playoff positioning at a premium for the two AFC division leaders,
Manning isn't leaning too heavily on accomplishments.
"I can't speak to the past," he said. "All I know is we're going on the road,
playing an excellent team."
Both the Broncos and Ravens are jockeying for an edge in the upcoming
postseason tournament. Denver has already clinched the AFC West and trails
conference leader Houston by one game with three to play. The Ravens are two
games clear of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the AFC North, though they trail
the top-seeded Texans by a similar two-game margin.
As of today, the Broncos are seeded third in a six-team field and Baltimore is
"This will be a playoff-type game," Denver coach Jon Fox said. "You're talking
about a team that's been in the playoffs four straight years. I think Coach
(John) Harbaugh's done a tremendous job. They've got excellent staff,
excellent football team, they know how to win and part of that is being tough
at home. They've only lost one game there this year."
The Broncos have run roughshod over their division in an eight-game win
streak, the franchise's longest since it won 13 straight to begin the 1998
season -- which ended in a second straight Super Bowl for quarterback-turned-
executive John Elway.
The most recent win in the streak came last week in Oakland, where Manning
connected on 26 of 36 throws for 310 yards and a touchdown in a 26-13 win. He
leads the conference with 30 touchdowns and is fourth in the league with a
104.0 passer rating.
Thus, the stakes are not difficult to ascertain for Baltimore's Harbaugh.
"It's a big game. We don't really need an incentive," he said. "The fact that
us and Denver are both kind of in the mix for seeding and for division
championships and those kinds of things, that makes it really interesting.
This is a game that everybody should be excited about."
That said, the Broncos' recent eight-game joyride contrasts sharply with the
Ravens, who've dropped two straight in excruciating fashion.
Baltimore lost to Pittsburgh via last-second regulation field goal on Dec. 2
and fell in overtime last week against Washington. The Steelers are the only
team to win in Baltimore since Manning and the Colts did it in November 2009.
The rare in-season slump -- which has featured four Ravens turnovers in two
weeks -- led to a change on Harbaugh's staff on Monday, when offensive
coordinator Cam Cameron was fired and replaced by Jim Caldwell, who'd been the
quarterbacks coach under Cameron and previously spent 10 seasons with
He was Manning's QB coach for seven years and his head coach for three more
before being replaced by Chuck Pagano in January. Soon after, Manning was
released and signed with Denver when the Colts chose to pursue top-rated
collegiate prospect Andrew Luck as their franchise passer.
"I felt like (Caldwell) really took my game to another level," Manning said.
"He's also a tremendous mentor and friend to me."
Caldwell has had a similar rapport so far with Baltimore quarterback Joe
Flacco, who threw for three TDs and completed 76.1 percent of his passes
against the Redskins.
On defense, it's been a battle of attrition for the Ravens, who may get
Terrell Suggs back after he missed last week with a biceps injury. Also on the
brink of a return is veteran Ray Lewis, who's not played since Week 6 with a
Linebacker Jameel McClain is definitely out with back/neck issues, and
defensive back Asa Jackson will miss four games after a Tuesday suspension for
violating the league's PED policy.
"This is by far one of those years," said safety Ed Reed, whose team is 24th
in total defense and 25th stopping the run. "I think when coach first got
here, second year, we had a lot of injuries. But not like this."
The Broncos are fourth in the league in both offense and defense. Running back
Knowshon Moreno stepped in for the injured Willis McGahee and ran for 119
yards last week against the Raiders.
"I think any quarterback would tell you that his best friend is a good running
game," Manning said. "It's a tough bunch against the run, starting in
Baltimore, but we feel it's important, like all season, to be balanced."
The Ravens lead the all-time series, 5-3, and have won two straight games
against Denver, including an October 2010 matchup in which Ray Rice ran for
133 yards and scored twice.
Harbaugh is 2-0 against the Broncos, while Fox has won two of three in his
career against Baltimore.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Baltimore has long been known for an opportunistic, ball-hawking defensive
unit and no player exemplifies that style more than Reed.
Expect Manning to determine the veteran safety's whereabouts on every trip to
the line of scrimmage and attempt to deceive him with a long-established
ability to focus his vision on one receiver before ultimately unloading the
ball somewhere else. It's a tactic Manning will have to employ successfully to
gain big chunks of yardage against a deep zone scheme.
Manning continues to add to the surprise -- and his MVP credentials -- every
week the Broncos continue to win. And as long as he's at the level he's
performed for the last two months, it's difficult to pick against him,
especially when he's facing a foe whose defense has been gashed by lesser
opponents. In the end, helped by his own stingy defense, look for No. 18 to
find just enough ways to get points.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 20, Ravens 17
12/13 12:49:50 ET