4:30 PM ET, January 12, 2013
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
They'll open the playoffs against a Baltimore Ravens team looking to avenge a regular-season loss to the Broncos and prolong the career of their own future Hall of Famer.
Trying to help the Broncos to a 12th straight victory, Manning looks to continue his success against the visiting Ravens and Ray Lewis, who could play his final game in Saturday's divisional matchup.
Sidelined the entire 2011 season following a series of neck surgeries, Manning has even surprised himself by recording an MVP-worthy year in his first with Denver (13-3). The 36-year-old four-time MVP was tied for first in the league in completion percentage (68.6), finished second in passer rating (105.8), third in touchdowns (37) and sixth in yards (4,659) for a team that averaged 30.1 points and won its last 11 games to claim the top seed in the conference.
The run is the team's longest since an 18-game winning streak Dec. 21, 1997-Dec. 6, 1998, that included playoffs.
"It's been quite a year for me," Manning told the Broncos' official website. "I remember one year ago I was in a hospital bed watching opening day, so there's a little reminder there of how far I've come."
It would seem fitting if Manning could complete this improbable journey by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in his native New Orleans on Feb. 3. The next step to getting there is winning his first playoff game since his last with Indianapolis, a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets on Jan. 8, 2011.
Manning and the Broncos have had two weeks to prepare for Baltimore (11-6), a 24-9 winner over the Colts on Sunday in Lewis' final home game before his pending retirement after 17 seasons.
Manning has won nine straight overall versus the Ravens, including two playoff matchups despite throwing three interceptions with two touchdowns and posting a 68.3 rating in the postseason games.
He was 17 of 28 for 204 yards with a touchdown in a 34-17 win at Baltimore in Week 15. Lewis, safety Bernard Pollard, guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson missed that contest, but all are now healthy.
Two of the game's finest butting heads for the final time will dominate the headlines, but Manning would rather keep his respect for Lewis private.
"I think Ray Lewis knows how I feel about him and I think I'll share that with him at the appropriate time," he said.
Lewis' focus is on helping Baltimore reach the AFC championship game for a second straight season.
"It's just one of those chess matches," said the two-time Defensive Player of the Year, who recorded 13 tackles Sunday in his return from a torn triceps that sidelined him for 12 weeks. "(Manning) knows me very well. I know him very well. ... But at the end of the day, it's not about me and me and Peyton. It's about their team against our team.
"I love our team right now."
After totaling 441 yards and limiting star rookie Andrew Luck and the Colts to three field goals, the Ravens are only looking forward and not concerned about last month's loss to Denver.
"We all have a goal in mind, and we're focused in on that goal," said receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught five passes for a franchise-high 145 yards and a touchdown last week.
The Broncos also expect to face a better team than the one that managed 278 yards in the December matchup.
"It means nothing that we beat them in the regular season," said Denver receiver Brandon Stokley, a member of the Ravens when they beat the Broncos 21-3 in a wild-card game during their 2000 Super Bowl season. "I know we beat them pretty good, but in the playoffs it's just a different game."
Though the Broncos have homefield advantage, expected game-time temperatures in the low 20s may not bode well for them, as Manning is 0-3 in playoff games in which the temperature at kickoff is less than 40 degrees. He's a combined 64 for 120 for 612 yards with one TD and seven INTs in those contests, and will play with a glove on his throwing hand.
Manning, who hasn't worn anything on his hands before this season, conceded the glove is a concession to the altered feel of his grip, especially in cold weather, after his neck surgeries.
For that reason, the Ravens could again receive a steady dose of Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 115 yards and a TD against them last month. Even with Lewis in the lineup, the Ravens allowed 152 rushing yards last week.
Denver has yielded 237.3 total yards and 13.5 points during a six-game home winning streak.
"You just have to be ready to go into a hostile environment and play your best football," said quarterback Joe Flacco, who's 2-1 against the Broncos but is facing them on the road for the first time.
Baltimore's Ray Rice, who lost two fumbles last week after losing one during the regular season, was held to 38 yards on 12 carries against the Broncos in Week 15. He's averaged 58.8 yards and scored one rushing TD in his last six postseason contests.
Flacco improved to 2-0 at home in the playoffs by throwing for 282 yards with two TDs and no interceptions against the Colts. However, he's lost his last two postseason road contests, passing for 431 yards with three touchdowns and two picks.
Flacco was 20 of 40 for 254 yards with two TDs and one INT versus Denver last month.
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• Pick apart the Ravens' coverage: An argument could be made that Denver has the best passing attack in the NFL. Peyton Manning has a ton to do with that, but Demaryius Thomas has emerged as one of the most dangerous players at his position with his great size and physicality, deep speed, and exceptional run-after-the-catch skills. This season, only Brandon Marshall had more end zone targets than Thomas. But it was Eric Decker who did the damage against the Ravens earlier this season. Manning doesn't discriminate, though, as five Broncos had more than 40 catches in 2012. Manning should see plenty of matchups to his liking, targeting the Ravens' cornerbacks and maybe Ray Lewis with Denver's tight ends. These matchups are especially important when Baltimore brings added pressure, as it did so effectively last week. Ed Reed will be lurking, so Manning has to be extra careful when going deep downfield.
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|Avg Points Allowed||22.0||38.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||BAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||BAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Baltimore leads 6-3|
|Dec 16, 2012||BAL 17, DEN 34|
|Oct 10, 2010||BAL 31, DEN 17|
|Nov 1, 2009||BAL 30, DEN 7|
|Oct 9, 2006||BAL 3, @DEN 13|
|Dec 11, 2005||BAL 10, @DEN 12|
|Oct 26, 2003||BAL 26, DEN 6|
|Sep 30, 2002||BAL 34, DEN 23|
|Sep 30, 2001||BAL 20, @DEN 13|
The Ravens are the 4th team in NFL history to play a Saturday playoff game in Denver after playing the previous Sunday. Each of the previous three teams lost.[+]
SATURDAY PLAYOFF GAMES AT BRONCOS - AFTER PLAYING ON PREVIOUS SUNDAY
From Elias: The Broncos are the 7th team in NFL history to score at least 30 points in at least 7 home games in the regular season. Each of the previous 6 teams each hosted a playoff game that season with 4 of them coming away victorious in their first home playoff game. Those 4 teams each scored at least 30 points, while the two losing teams were held to 20 points.[+]
TEAMS TO SCORE 30+ POINTS IN AT LEAST 7 REGULAR SEASON HOME GAMES - RESULTS IN 1st HOME PLAYOFF GAME
(stats for 2nd and 3rd rows should be reversed in graphic) Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have won each of the 6 playoff games that they have held their opponents to 14 points or less. However, the Ravens are 0-4 in postseason under Harbaugh if they allow 15 points or more. In addition, 7 of Joe Flacco's 8 career postseason interceptions have come in losses.[+]
RAVENS IN POSTSEASON - UNDER JOHN HARBAUGH (SINCE 2008)
Saturday marks the 6th time under John Harbaugh that the Ravens will face a non-AFC North team in the playoffs that they played in the regular season. In the previous five game, the Ravens are 4-1, including 2-1 against teams they lost to in the regular season. However, their one loss did come against Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2009 Divisional playoffs, the same quarterback they will face Saturday in Denver. Twice they have lost in the playoffs to the Steelers, whom they faced twice previously in the regular season.[+]
RAVENS AGAINST NON-AFC NORTH TEAMS IN PLAYOFFS - IN REMATCHES FROM REGULAR SEASON
No quarterback had a higher dropback rate using play action than Joe Flacco from 2008 to 2010 (31 percent), but over the past two seasons Flacco has the 25th-highest rate (20 percent). During that time, a common theme in Ravens' losses has been an inability to get the play action game going. In Week 15 against the Broncos this season, Flacco was 3-of-5 for 1 yard on such plays.[+]
Joe Flacco Play-Action Passing - Last 2 Seasons (Inc. Playoffs)
The Ravens held Andrew Luck to a 36 completion percentage (5-of-14) when pass rushing five or more defenders in the Wild Card round, and have allowed opponents to complete more than half of their attempts against such pressure in only two of the seven games Ray Lewis has played (7 of 10 games Lewis missed).[+]
Ravens Defense Sending 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
Joe Flacco went 2-of-6 when the Broncos sent five or more pass rushers in Week 15, including the game-changing pick-6 by Chris Harris at the end of the first half. The Broncos posted the best Total QBR when using five or more rushers this season (16.1), but were even better in the fourth quarter.[+]
Broncos Defense Sending 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
Knowshon Moreno averaged 5.5 yards on 21 rushes in Week 15 against the Ravens. His success running the ball helped Peyton Manning complete 8-of-11 pass attempts following a play action fake. Manning's 53 completion percentage without a play fake in the game was his second worst of the season.[+]
Peyton Manning Passing by Play Type - Week 15 vs Ravens
ESPN Stats & Information