Get excited, NFL football is back!
Three quick thoughts on this game:
1) Denver's offense is going to be scary good. The line is good (if not better). The wide receiver corps is overflowing with riches. And while the running backs are only decent, defenses will have to commit so many resources to stop the pass that the backs will pile up the statistics. I'm not really sure how you stop this offense unless you have a tremendous front four.
2) Everyone is assuming a big fall-off for the Ravens defense, given that they lost their leaders (Ray Lewis and Ed Reed) and are replacing over half of their starters. But here's the thing: the defense wasn't all that good last year. Lewis and Reed were savvy veterans, but they were well past their primes and held together by scotch tape and deer antler spray. They also couldn't rush the passer, which hung their linebackers and secondary out to dry. This year's defense is more athletic, faster, and (on paper at least) should be able to put some pressure on the quarterback.
3) No, you aren't mis-remembering, Denver did not win the Super Bowl last year. So why are they hosting the kickoff classic? Because the Baltimore Orioles got all uppity after one playoff berth in the last 15 years and refused to move their game tonight to another day (the Orioles and Ravens share a parking lot so the games can't be played simultaneously.
So instead we get an exact rematch of last year's divisional round game. A game where the Ravens won thanks to a colossal blunder in the final minute by a Broncos safety, who let a receiver get behind him while his team was up 7 with less than a minute to play. But it's also the same game where both teams scored 35 points in regulation. Sure Baltimore got some help on 7 of those points (the Flacco-to-Jones bomb in the final minute), but Denver got 2 special teams touchdowns that day as well. It wasn't Peyton Manning marching the offense up and down the field all game long.
So take Baltimore's defensive improvement, their ability to contain Manning last year, and a pretty high line (Denver -7.5), and my first pick of the 2013 NFL season is...
Baltimore (+7.5) over DENVER
Regular Season History:
2012: 114-133-9 (.463)
2011: 51-55-4 (.482)
2012: 6-4-1 (.591)
2011: 6-5 (.545)