Ravens vs. Broncos 2013 game preview: Defending Super Bowl champs head to Denver

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens will take on the Denver Broncos to kickoff the 2013-14 NFL season on Thursday.

The NFL season is officially underway, and will get started with the first game proper on Thursday night, when the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos. The rest of the league will get going on Sunday and Monday, but this is a great matchup to get things started.

The two teams met in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, a game that the Ravens won, 38-35 in overtime. That game was blow-for-blow, with the Ravens and Broncos both scoring 14 points in the first quarter and then a touchdown in each of the following until the overtime period, when the Ravens managed a field goal to win it.

Let's take a look at the two teams below.

Meet the Broncos

The Broncos were the favorite to take down the Ravens in the playoffs last year, with many being shocked when the Ravens kept up with them offensively en route to their eventual win. This time, the Broncos are favored by an even larger margin by some. That's because they're just so stacked on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was fantastic with the Broncos last year, and is primed for another strong season, this time with wide receiver Wes Welker to aid him. The Broncos do have some concerns on the defensive side of the ball though, as cornerback Champ Bailey is out with an injury and linebacker Von Miller has to miss the game with a suspension. That should give the Ravens a much better chance at victory.

Meet the Ravens

Baltimore may have won the Super Bowl last season, but they're not the favorites this year. In fact, they're relatively low in SB Nation's power rankings for being the defending champs. That's due to some key players leaving on defense, such as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.

But the offense should be just fine. Joe Flacco may not wow with his completion percentage in the regular season, but he received a huge contract for his efforts last season and should find Torrey Smith early and often in this game and throughout the season. Unfortunately, Flacco will be without tight end Dennis Pitta, and the team traded away Anquan Boldin before Pitta was injured, so Smith's importance cannot be overstated.

There's a few new moving parts on defense and some concerns on offense, but the Ravens shouldn't be counted out of any match at this point.

Local Takes: Broncos

Broncos Mike from Mile High Report thinks that screens and short passes will be the key to offensive success for Denver:

- Use the Screen Game. Not only with our RB but with Wes Welker and our WR's as well. I still expect the Ravens' corners to play a lot of off man coverage on the outside, a lot of Cover 2 with their safeties. So it will provide ample opportunity with some quick screens outside.

- Use the short passing game. I am looking for Wes Welker and Julius Thomas to get a lot of targets tomorrow. Both of them can win their matchups and both will keep the chains moving.

Local Takes: Ravens

Jason Butt of Baltimore Beatdown feels that Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw are the key to the Ravens pass rush:

Terrell Suggs and Ryan Clady figure to have a pretty good battle on Denver's left side of the line. But they key to any success from Baltimore's pass rush lies on the other side with Dumervil and Upshaw battling Franklin. Upshaw will get some snaps, but Dumervil may play the majority of the game since there figures to be more pass rushing opportunities.

...

If Dumervil wins this battle, then Manning could be forced into quick throws, which bodes well for a defense. Manning is one of very reliable right tackle for the Broncos.the best at getting rid of the ball, so all Franklin needs to go is give his quarterback an extra second or two of time with Dumervil bearing down.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Mile High Report and Baltimore Beatdown for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@MileHighReport

@BMoreBeatdown

Prediction

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has the Broncos taking this one:

The Broncos have to love the idea of facing the team that knocked them out of the playoffs at home in the opener. Both of these teams are a lot different than last January when they met. I still expect another fun game, maybe not as good as that one. The Ravens are Joe Flacco's team now, and this is his first chance to show it. With the Broncos banged up on defense, he will have a good game, but not good enough to beat Peyton Manning, who will be better.

Odds

The Broncos opened as 7.5-point favorites to open the week and have remained around that number throughout, according to OddsShark.

Next Week

The Ravens will return home to take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Sept. 15.  The Broncos will hit the road to take on the New York Giants on the same day.

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