Super Bowl Champs In Enemy Territory

Image courtesy of theaustralian.com.au
Joe Flacco is under pressure to reproduce the form of last postseason. Image courtesy of theaustralian.com.au
Almost eight months ago Denver blew a seven-point lead late in its Divisional Playoff clash with Baltimore , eventually going down in double-overtime 38-35 . The Ravens seemed to shock almost everyone but themselves in then going on to defeat the more highly-fancied New England and San Francisco to claim their first Super Bowl title since 2000.

In a rarity, the Super Bowl champs hit the road in the opening week thanks to a schedule clash with baseball’s Baltimore Orioles. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t seem impressed by the dilemma when asked about it this week, but he has more than just the trip to the thin air of Sports Authority Field to deal with.

Flacco signed a massive six-year deal after throwing 11 touchdowns and not a single interception during the playoffs, but he’ll have a tough time repeating those sort of performances with two of his favourite targets nowhere to be seen this weekend. Star receiver Anquan Boldin will be on the end of Colin Kaepernick’s bullets in San Francisco this season while tight end Dennis Pitta is out for the meantime with a fractured hip.

The Ravens’ defence has also taken a battering in the off-season. The retirement of Ray Lewis after 17 years was already a given, but it makes it no less crushing, while veteran safety Ed Reed signed with Houston. Baltimore does have former Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil after a paperwork mix-up forced him to leave Colorado.

The Broncos have had their issues, too, with star linebacker Von Miller to miss the first six games after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. 37-year-old Peyton Manning is gearing up for his second season in a Bronco uniform. He’ll have bitter-sweet memories of the playoff loss to the Ravens; while he threw for 290 yards and three TDs, he was also picked off twice and sacked on three occasions.

Manning led the Broncos to an NFL-best 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season last campaign. Wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are back after both producing 1,000-yard seasons, while former Patriot Wes Welker is now also part of Manning’s receiving corps. The Broncos’ weak point lies in its lack of backfield weapons.

The Ravens have won their last five season openers, although the last two were played at home at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore has won three of the past four against Denver, but other than last season’s playoff game, each of those matches was played in Maryland.

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