By Raul Martinez
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Ravens are driving down the field. Joe Flacco has his team at Denver’s 4-yard line. Thirty seconds left until halftime. Baltimore, despite a horrific first half, only trailed the Broncos 10-0.
A touchdown cuts it to three, and the Ravens get the ball in the third quarter. Flacco throws Anquan Boldin’s way and cornerback Chris Harris reads it like a book and takes it all the way for a touchdown.
Instead of 10-7 at the half, it’s 17-0.
The route was on. That was the difference maker. The Broncos won in Baltimore 34-17.
I know Denver’s coaches and veterans are reminding everyone that it wasn’t as big of a blowout as it said on the scoreboard. Baltimore is also a lot healthier this time around. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, safety Bernard Pollard, right guard Marshall Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson all return to the field.
“You know they want to come back and get payback,” said Harris. “They are eager to come up here and play us. We’re hungry, too. We haven’t reached any goals just by being the No. 1 seed. We’re still hungry and we’re excited to play them too.”
The weather is going to be a factor. It’s going to be cold. The game time temperatures is expected to be 18 degrees. (Is that a sign?) Hopefully there won’t be any snow or wind because that will slow down the pass game from No. 18, Peyton Manning.
Right now the Broncos are favored to win by 9. I haven’t seen one expert pick the Ravens.
I just don’t see Denver winning by that much.
I have the Broncos winning this game, but it’s going to be closer. With all the factors I mentioned above, I can see this being a defensive battle and that’s where the home team has the advantage.
The Broncos defense is just better than the Ravens and I think they will focus on shutting down Ray Rice and dare Flacco to throw on them. I think Flacco is a good quarterback; not elite. If he wants that status, he has to be perfect at Mile High.
I see a lot of field goals and Manning having one or two key drives to put them in the AFC Championship, where they will host the Patriots.
Here are my predictions for the Broncos-Ravens contest tomorrow, as well as all of the NFL’s Divisional playoff games:
Broncos 23, Ravens 18: It will be close, but the Broncos have been a great second half team and their defense will make sure to give Manning opportunities. No. 18 will capitalize.
Patriots 34, Texans 20: Houston got it done against Cincinnati last week, but they did not look very good. I’m pretty sure any other playoff team would have beat them that day. I am not a believer in Matt Schaub. He makes too many mistakes and if running back Arian Foster can’t get going from the start, it will be even uglier. One guy I do trust? Tom Brady. He’s so good in the playoffs and I see him throwing three or four touchdowns — even against a pretty good Houston defense.
Packers 31, 49ers 28: This should be the best game of the divisional round and it’s my only upset pick. These two met in week 1 and San Francisco won 30-22. The reason I like Green Bay to win has to do with the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is red hot and Colin Kaepernick is too inconsistent. Rodgers has been here before and the 49ers have a great defense, but I see Green Bay’s quarterback coming up clutch late. I see Kaepernick making a big mistake in the second half.
Falcons 24, Seahawks 20: Seattle is on fire. They were unstoppable at home this season, and they are proving they can win big games on the road, as well. They proved it last week against the Redskins. Saying all that, I still like Atlanta to win. The Falcons are due. Quarterback Matt Ryan is the difference maker here, and his playoff losing streak is coming to an end. Even though Russell Wilson isn’t playing like a rookie, I don’t trust first-year players this far in the playoffs.