Ravens at Broncos
September 4, 2013
By Kevin Rogers
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The NFL season kicks off on Thursday night with the highly-anticipated rematch of the epic divisional playoff battle between the Ravens and Broncos. Baltimore knocked off Denver in two overtimes to end the Broncos' 11-game winning streak in Peyton Manning's debut in the Mile High City, en route to the franchise's second Super Bowl title. Now, the Broncos will take the field to get this campaign started again at Sports Authority Field against the Ravens as substantial favorites.
Rewinding back to the second round contest in January, Denver received a jolt of out the gate thanks to a 90-yard punt return for a score by Trindon Holliday less than three minutes in. The Ravens answered with a 59-yard touchdown strike from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith to even things up at 7-7, while Baltimore's Corey Graham intercepted Manning and took the pick back 39 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 14-7 lead five minutes into the game.
Following a pair of Manning touchdown strikes to Brandon Stokley and Knowshon Moreno to grab the lead back at 21-14 in the second quarter, Flacco connected again with Smith in the final minute of the first half to tie the game at 21-21 heading into halftime. The game total closed at 44, clinching an 'over' with a whole half to play since obviously there would need to be another score to break the deadlock.
Holliday stunned Baltimore's special teams coverage again with a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, giving the Broncos back the advantage, 28-21. After Denver held a 35-28 lead and playing prevent defense in the final minute of regulation, Flacco aired out a 70-yard pass to Jacoby Jones, who got behind Denver's defense to even the game up again, while helping out Baltimore backers who grabbed the Ravens and 9 ½ points.
Justin Tucker's 48-yard field goal in the second overtime propelled Baltimore back to the AFC Title Game, as the Ravens own a 9-4 SU/ATS record in the playoffs since John Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2008. Heading into Thursday's opener, Baltimore looks to improve on a 7-4 ATS record in the role of an underdog dating back to the start of the 2011 season, although three of those defeats came in 2012 to the Bengals, Redskins, and Texans on the road.
The Broncos eclipsed the 30-point mark in eight of nine games at Sports Authority Field last season, resulting in a 6-2-1 mark to the 'over.' John Fox's club profited in the home favorite role by cashing six of eight times, with one of the ATS defeats coming as 7 ½-point 'chalk' in a seven-point victory over the Chargers.
VegasInsider.com handicapper Antony Dinero gives his spin on this contest, "The Ravens have a few more questions to answer than Denver, which does have issues given its attrition at the center spot early in camp. That said, it's far more compelling to see how the defending champs replace staples on both sides of the ball. Making up for the production of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta won't happen overnight, which is why Baltimore finds itself such a decided underdog. The odds of them coming up with another magical comeback works against them, making a strong start imperative."
Baltimore is the first defending Super Bowl champion to be listed as an underdog in the season opener since Tampa Bay back in 2003. The Buccaneers won outright as three-point 'dogs at Philadelphia, 17-0, as the Eagles lost in the revenge role after losing to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship the season before.
For those that take preseason into account when looking ahead to Week 1, both the Ravens and Broncos finished the exhibition campaign at 2-2. Denver covered just once, coming in the preseason opener at San Francisco, while the 'over' cashed in each of the final three contests. Baltimore took care of Tampa Bay and Atlanta in the first two exhibition games, but lost to Carolina and St. Louis in the last two contests.
The Thursday season-opener has been a low-scoring affair since 2007, as the 'under' has hit five of six times. Last season's initial game (which was played on a Wednesday) saw the Cowboys knock off the defending champion Giants, 24-17 as three-point underdogs, while the contest finished 'under' the total of 44 ½.
From the coaching perspective, Harbaugh has never lost a season opener in his career, posting a 5-0 SU/ATS record, but only one of those games came on the road (2010 at Jets). In Fox's first 11 seasons as an NFL head coach with the Panthers and Broncos, his teams have put together a dreadful 1-5 ATS mark in Week 1 contests in the favorite role (only cover against Steelers last season).
The Broncos opened up as 8 ½-point favorites with the number creeping up to nine at several spots before settling back to 7 ½. The total is set between 48 ½ and 49 depending on where you shop, as the game can be seen nationally on NBC at 8:30 PM EST.
You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.
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