The Broncos are jockeying for the second spot in the AFC, but most hold off the Ravens, who are looking to clinch a playoff spot of their own.
The Ravens come into this game after a gut-wrenching loss in overtime to the Washington Redskins last week. The Ravens were up eight late in the fourth quarter, and things looked really good when Robert Griffin III was knocked out of the game.
However, Kirk Cousins came in and led the Redskins to overtime with a touchdown pass and two-point conversion rush.
After a punt, the Ravens allowed the Redskins to return said punt deep into Ravens territory, which led to the game-winning field goal.
The Ravens’ offense came to a grinding halt after a big first half. Joe Flacco had three first half touchdowns and 127 yards to go with no turnovers.
Flacco and the Ravens have had a propensity for uneven performances, which was a contributing factor in Monday’s firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Cameron’s questionable play calling and inability to make in-game adjustments sealed his fate, as Flacco and the Ravens’ offense have become one of the most inconsistent and unpredictable units in the NFL.
Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell is the new offensive coordinator, and will call offensive plays for the first time in the NFL. Caldwell last called plays in 1999 as a college coach so it remains to be seen what Caldwell will stress in his offensive system.
You have to think Ray Rice will get a big workload, as Cameron was chastised for not getting Rice more touches. The Ravens are 22-3 overall and 5-0 this season when Rice gets 25-plus touches, so the formula seems simple in regards to Rice’s role in the offense. Caldwell would be stupid to stray from that formula, especially in his first game against a stud quarterback that he coincidentally used to coach in Indianapolis.
That stud quarterback, Peyton Manning, is having a monster year after plenty of people doubted his ability to comeback.
All Manning has done is throw for 3,812 yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and ranks fourth in passer rating. Manning has built the Broncos’ offense into a juggernaut, as they rank fourth in the NFL in total offense and are second in the league in scoring with 28.8 points per game.
Running back Knowshon Moreno is coming off a career-high 32 carries last Thursday against the Oakland Raiders. Moreno had 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground and four catches for 48 yards via the air. Moreno has a shot at another big game as he faces the Ravens’ hapless 25th-ranked run defense.
If the Broncos can establish the run game, Manning is sure to carve up the defense when he gets his opportunities.
The Broncos have also been very strong on third down, which is no surprise considering Manning’s presence at the line of scrimmage. Conversely, the Ravens have really struggled on third down, as they rank 19th in the league on third down. Much of the third down struggles have been due to facing long third down situations with Cameron’s pass happy offense.
If the Ravens consistently have short drives, Manning will really hurt the Ravens’ defense late in the game as he will wear them down.
The only area that favors the Ravens in this match-up is the turnover differential. Despite both a top five offense and defense, the Broncos are minus-2 in the turnover differential department. Despite inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, the Ravens are third in the AFC with a plus-12 turnover differential.
The Ravens are also one of the better home teams in the NFL, as they just had a 15-game home winning streak snapped in their last home game. Flacco’s numbers are much better at home and Rice is coming off his most productive game of the season.
However, Manning has the Broncos’ offense operating like a well-oiled machine and their defense is also a top-five unit.
It remains unsure how the Ravens’ offense will look under Caldwell, as the team as a whole has been terribly inconsistent.
Thus, expect the more consistent team that has been better on both sides of the ball to prevail. The Broncos will hand the Ravens their third straight loss for the first time since early in the 2009 season.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Ravens 20