After having enjoyed a week off whilst the Wild Card teams were doing their thing, the Broncos will get of to a slow start today offensively. It will take them the better part of the first quarter just to get their blood flowing.
There’s little question in my mind that Baltimore will come out of the tunnel more ready to play. Fortunately, Denver’s defense will be aware of this and they’ll stem Baltimore’s tide while Manning and the boys warm up. The Ravens will work their way part way down the field on their first possession (Denver will win the toss and defer), but they’ll settle for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Baltimore’s cracking the score board first will cause some nervousness among the Broncos faithful. It will escalate when the Broncos struggle on their first possession and are forced to punt.
The Ravens will mount a second drive late in the first quarter, led by the hard-charging Ray Rice. This time they will reach the red zone and threaten to score a touchdown. But, after two unsuccessful tosses into the end zone, Baltimore will settle for three once again, boosting their temporary lead to 6-0.
If there’s one thing we know about playoff football, settling for field goals won’t get the job done. Baltimore will be reminded of this truism when, early in the second quarter, the Broncos strike. Matt Prater will only be needed to tack on the extra point after Brandon Stokely posts the game’s first touchdown, putting the Broncos up 7-6. They will never trail again in the game.
By half time the Ravens will have finally scored a touchdown and the Broncos will have scored another. The teams will go into the locker room engaged in a tight battle at 14-13. Some Denver fans will feel a sense of panic while others will realize that the Broncos best efforts will come in the third quarter.
Denver will receive the opening kickoff in the second half. Strapped with a one-point advantage, they’ll take to the air. Peyton Manning’s mission will be to get this game put away. The Broncos will score quickly, in six or fewer plays. Manning will hit Decker and Thomas on a rapid drive resulting in a touchdown that deflates the Ravens, putting Denver ahead 21-13.
The Ravens will score nevermore. The 13 points they posted in the first will be all they’ll muster for the entire game. Denver’s early second half strike will prove to have been the kill shot. Over the course of the second half Matt Prater will be summoned to post two field goals in helping the Broncos to put the game away.
The final score will be 27-13.
The opening line for the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos will be Denver -3.5.