BALTIMORE RAVENS (0-0)
at DENVER BRONCOS (0-0)
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: Denver -9.5, Total: 48
The 2013 NFL season gets underway Thursday night with the defending champion Ravens visiting a Broncos team favored to win this year’s championship.
These teams played a classic in last year’s playoffs. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco threw a game-tying, 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation before eventually winning 38-35 in double overtime to advance to the AFC Championship game. Flacco is back to lead his team that parted ways with several starters, including retired LB Ray Lewis, but the Ravens signed DE Elvis Dumervil away from Denver. The Broncos inked former Patriots star WR Wes Welker to give QB Peyton Manning another weapon, but pass-rushing monster LB Von Miller is suspended for this game, while starting CBs Champ Bailey (foot) is out and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle) is questionable. Denver was a whopping 10-2 ATS (83%) as a favorite last season and 6-2 ATS (75%) at home. But the Ravens are also 17-11 ATS (61%) on the road in the past three seasons and 7-4 ATS (64%) in the underdog role in the past two years. Also, head coach John Harbaugh has also been a strong bet since arriving in Baltimore, sporting a 51-38 ATS mark (57%), including 39-25 ATS (61%) in games played on grass.
Can the Broncos cover the big spread against the defending champs? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. During the 2012 campaign, the experts combined for a 52% ATS success rate in NFL Best Bets, highlighted by StatFox Brian's 60% ATS mark (36-24-2 ATS) and StatFox Dave's 53% ATS accuracy (44-41-4). StatFox Scott and StatFox Gary dominated NFL Totals, with Scott going 57% (38-29-1) and Gary cranking out a 56% clip (28-22-1) during the season, capped off by a perfect 4-0 run in the postseason.
The Super Bowl champions have steadily moved away from the running game as they’ve gone more no-huddle the past two seasons. This is an Air Coryell offense that attacks downfield with QB Joe Flacco looking for speedy WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. These two wideouts combined for 175 receiving yards and 3 TD in the miracle win at Denver on Jan. 12. Because TE Dennis Pitta (hip) will miss the 2013 season, Flacco is left with TEs Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark for the short stuff. RB Ray Rice continues to be used as a security blanket and screen option to create mismatches, but in last year's playoff meeting with the Broncos, he carried the ball 30 times for 131 yards (4.4 YPC) and a touchdown. Baltimore ranked 10th in the NFL in scoring last year with 24.9 PPG. On defense, LBs Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, and DBs Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams are all gone from the 17th-ranked total defense (351 YPG allowed) and the tied for 12th-ranked scoring defense (21.5 PPG allowed). However, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Terrell Suggs and a healthy CB Lardarius Webb are still Pro Bowl defenders. Replacing Lewis and Ellerbe will be ILBs Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes, who has outplayed rookie Arthur Brown in training camp. Newcomers DE/LB Elvis Dumervil, DL Chris Canty and DB Michael Huff will all help fill these gaping holes.
This is basically QB Peyton Manning’s offense, featuring a lot of pre-snap adjustments and more quick hitters. Manning threw for 290 yards and 3 TD in the playoff loss to Baltimore last year, but threw two picks, the last of which set up the game-winning field goal in double overtime. WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will work on the outside as receiver 1 and 1A. They’ll go to a three-receiver base with WR Wes Welker coming in, and the former Patriots star will likely take over as Manning’s No. 1 target. The potent passing attack was a big reason the Broncos scored 30.1 PPG (2nd in NFL) with 398 total YPG (4th in NFL) last year. Rookie RB Montee Ball should get a few more carries than either RBs Ronnie Hillman or Knowshon Moreno. On defense, the Broncos tied the NFL lead with 52 sacks in their first year under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in 2012, but departed with DE Elvis Dumervil (11 sacks), and OLB Von Miller (18.5 sacks) is suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy plus another two games for further violation during the appeal. This will be a huge void for the Broncos early this season. Denver's defense allowed a league-low 4.58 yards per play last season and finished second in total defense (291 YPG)