This season is quite possibly Peyton Manning’s farewell tour, but even if that’s the case, don’t expect teams to be handing out gift baskets to the NFL’s all-time passing leader. In this important AFC clash, Baltimore will be out for revenge after getting torched by Manning for seven touchdowns back in 2013.
So far, Joe Flacco has only beat Manning once in six career tries, and you may recall that that win required a little luck and a lot of bad safety play. But Flacco enters this game on the heels of his best season as a pro, throwing for career-highs in yards and touchdowns, and leading the most efficient Ravens offense since he was drafted in 2008. He’ll enter this season without favorite target Torrey Smith, but throwing to the ageless Steve Smith Sr. (1,065 yards in 2014), he should be able to keep the chains moving.
While Flacco has lost weapons to throw to, it looks like Manning is losing the ability to throw period. (That tends to happen when you can’t feel your fingertips.) Manning, and the Bronco offense as a whole, have looked a little off since last December, so the team brought in Gary Kubiak to implement a rushing attack similar to the one he’d deployed in Baltimore the year before. The Ravens finished eighth in rushing last season with Justin Forsett at the helm, and Denver hopes Kubiak can do the same with C.J. Anderson.
Both teams will be working with new offensive coordinators this year, but judging by last year’s numbers, these two teams should provide a high-scoring affair. The Broncos hit the over in six of eight home games last year, while Baltimore cleared the total in five of eight on the road.
Straight up, Denver was perfect at home last season, while Baltimore was an average 4-4 away from home. Manning is also 12-4, career, in season openers, including a perfect 3-0 in Denver. (All those games were played at Mile High, and each one the Broncos took by a touchdown or more.) Flacco, meanwhile, is 5-2 in season openers, but has gone just 1-1 when they take place on the road.
The stats of Broncos teams past won’t make a huge difference for those that believe Father Time has finally caught up to Manning, especially after he looked so off in the preseason, averaging just five yards per pass attempt. But this was a Denver defense that finished top-three in yards allowed last season and surrendered just over 20 points-per-game at home last year.
Straight-up pick: Denver.
(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)