The person, committee, and/or super computer(s) that create the yearly NFL schedule are amazing.
Arguably, the most memorable game of last season (other than the Super Bowl) was the Baltimore vs. Denver AFC Divisional playoff matchup. With just over thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, Joe Flacco tossed a prayer into the air and free safety Rahim Moore made a similar last-ditch effort to try and stop the connection with Jacoby Jones.
Flacco and Jones succeeded. Later, Justin Tucker would hit the game-winning field goal in double overtime and the Ravens would go on to win Super Bowl XLVII.
As the sand in Peyton Manning’s hourglass trickles down, so does the chance to win one more championship.
Last year, Manning was shaking off the cobwebs from missing the entire 2011 season due to multiple neck surgeries. Yet, in his first game as a Bronco, he threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, Denver played the Steelers in a classic playoff overtime game the year prior, though Tim Tebow was the quarterback at the time.
In his first year as the Broncos’ QB, Manning faced the Ravens twice. The regular season game in Baltimore only yielded one passing TD for Manning and 204 yards through the air, as his team won comfortably (34-17).
Round two at Mile High was completely different, both in the stats and game outcome. Manning found himself on the losing end, but he threw for 290 yards and three scores.
This season, Manning will have new weapons in Wes Welker and Montee Ball. Last year, Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six TDs with Tom Brady in New England. As for Ball, he was rushing for 1,830 yards and 22 TDs in his senior year at Wisconsin. Welker will continue to act as the quick, short yardage receiver in the slot. Ball is currently listed second on the RB depth chart and will serve as the goal line option, possibly becoming the main back further down the line.
Demaryius Thomas thrived under the Manning regime. Out of the 141 targets (more than double the previous season), Thomas caught 94 balls and totaled 1,434 receiving yards and scored 10 TDs. Even though Welker will be joining the receiving corps, Thomas is still the No. 1 WR and a reliable deep threat. His teammate, Eric Decker, will suffer the most with the new addition. His 85 receptions for 1,064 yards and 13 scores will drop.
Now, how about we talk about the defending champs? Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco earned himself a massive contract extension, but still isn’t a great fantasy football quarterback. Also, he’ll be without two of his top three targets this season. Anquan Boldin led the Ravens in targets, receptions, and receiving yards, however he’s joined the losing team in SB47. Dennis Pitta was targeted 93 times and recorded 669 receiving yards, but he’s out for the year with a hip injury. Torrey Smith finds himself as the WR1 in Baltimore. His eight receiving TDs led the team in 2012. Against Denver, Smith caught one pass for 14 yards in the regular season last year and three receptions in the playoff game. Granted, in the playoffs, Smith scored twice and accumulated 98 yards. One would figure, new Bronco DB, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would cover Smith.
The best fantasy option for Baltimore is still Ray Rice. He hasn’t missed a game in four seasons and has rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught at least 60 passes. In the regular season game against Denver, Rice ran only 12 times for 38 yards. The game plan changed in the playoffs. Flacco handed off 30 times to Rice, which tallied 131 yards and one TD.
With Elvis Dumervil jumping from Denver to Baltimore after a salary cap/fax machine issue, the smack talk from the defense should be plenty. Ray Lewis is only a motivational speaker now and Ed Reed is in Houston, so the defense needed a leader to help Terrell Suggs. Von Miller is suspended for the first six games. Miller and Dumervil were the main contributors in the sack category for Denver, with Miller leading the way (18.5 sacks). These are all many great storylines that could be found in a Hollywood script. Perhaps, on a NFL schedulers typical day, too.