The Denver Broncos have been an AFC gem the entire season. The Broncos finished the season at 13-3, atop the AFC and with an 11 game win streak. Plus, they had last weekend off after earning the #1 seed in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens will challenge the Broncos’ dominance this Saturday at 4:30ET. The Ravens crushed the Colts 24-9 last weekend to advance through the wildcard round. Loaded with talent and buoyed by the return of superstar LB Ray Lewis, the Ravens are bringing their 10-6 record to Denver looking for a return to the Super Bowl (which they have not had since they won in 2001). Denver has not been to the Super Bowl since they won back-to-back- titles in 1998 & 1999

The odds are saying that Denver has a better chance of advancing to the AFC finals. The Broncos are favored to win this game by 9 points and the over/under is 46 points

Much has been said about the leadership of QB Payton Manning this year in Denver. But, what also needs to be acknowledged is the quiet but outstanding strength of the Broncos defense. The Broncos defense has allowed an average of 18.1 points a game this season. They are ranked 3rd in the league against the pass and 3rd in the league against the run. And even though they are in a relatively weak conference, they have held back some decent teams throughout the season. But it is important to note that their three losses came against teams that are still alive in the playoffs; Atlanta 27-21, Houston 31-25, and New England 31-21. What they did do in a notable manner is beat the Ravens in Week 15 by a score of 34-17.

We know that Manning has consistently led his team over 30 points when they win and at least 21 points when they lose. Therefore the first big question for this game is whether Baltimore’s offense is better than they played in Week 15 against Denver. The Ravens have scored an average of 24.9 points a game this season. Against teams that are still in the playoffs, the Ravens have averaged just under 21 points a game this season. That should put them at a predicted scoring level of between 17-25 points. Probably the lower end is more likely as their 31-30 win over New England skews that 21 point average (the Ravens scored 17 points against Denver and 13 against Houston). Therefore 17-20 is more likely, and also right were the Broncos defense has been allowing this season and 18.1 points.

The second big question is whether the Ravens’ defense will have an answer for the Bronco’s offense. Certainly the returning Ray Lewis is a big boast for the defense in a number of ways especially since Manning is personally 2-0 in the playoffs against Baltimore. But Denver was 7-1 at home and the Ravens were 4-4 on the road this season. The Ravens defense has allowed an average of 21.5 points a game this season while the Broncos have scored an average of 30.1 points. The trouble for the Ravens is that they have not proven that they can beat a really good team without Ray Lewis. Yes everyone is now healthy on the Ravens’ defense after a few weeks mid-season of numerous injuries; but you have to ask yourself where is this big chunk of defensive strength supposed to come from? If you take the Week 15 score of 34-17 as a framework for this game then the Ravens’ defense needs to claw back 17 points off of last game. Is Ray Lewis worth 17 points? Probably not. Even with Lewis the Ravens could only hold the Patriots to 30 points in Week 3.

The odds translate to a score of 27-19 for Denver. That is pretty close to what the season averages predict. Considering that the Broncos have been so good at home and they have averaged more than 27 points a game, taking the Broncos to cover the spread and push the game over makes sense. At worst the Broncos make just 21 points but still beat the Ravens.

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