Forget the debate about whether Joe Flacco is elite or not. The key question heading into this season is how he'll deal with the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Last year Flacco set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns and Total QBR and seemed to be a perfect fit in a Kubiak's run-oriented, play-action scheme.
Enter new OC Marc Trestman, who oversaw a more pass-heavy offense during his two seasons in Chicago. With a ton of questions at wide receiver outside of Steve Smith Sr., the Ravens are probably at their best leaning on their run game. Justin Forsett had a breakout season last year, rushing for 1,266 yards (fifth-most in the NFL) at a league-leading clip of 5.4 yards per carry.
With Forsett in the backfield, Flacco under center and a defense that allowed the sixth-fewest points in the league last year, the Ravens are probably the most balanced team in the AFC North as they look to win their first division crown since 2012.
The Broncos are the NFL's winningest team since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver in 2012 (38-10), but are still searching for the Holy Grail -- a Super Bowl title -- with the future Hall of Famer under center. Could this be the last chance for the 39-year-old to get that elusive second ring? Manning showed his age at the end of last season, struggling mightily in his final six games (including the Divisional Playoff loss to the Colts), though a quad injury was partly to blame for his subpar performance.
Still, he completed less than 60 percent of his passes, averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt and had a passer rating of 78.0 in those six games -- a considerable decline from his rest-of-season numbers (68.1 completion percentage, 8.1 yards per attempt, 109.5 passer rating in his first 11 games). Manning can silence his critics with a strong Week 1 performance against a Ravens team than many have tabbed as a darkhorse title contender.
Denver is a near-unanimous pick by the experts to hold serve at home on Sunday afternoon. Only one of the pickers at CBS Sports think the Ravens can pull off the road upset, and just two of the 13 ESPN panelists are taking Baltimore.
Our guys at SB Nation also favor the Broncos starting the season with an important win over a playoff-caliber Ravens team.
|Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||Matt Ufford||PFT Commenter||OddsShark Computer|
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