It was tough picking which Sunday NFL game to preview for Week 1. Packers-Bears is always interesting, and Green Bay begins life without Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson. MMQB writer Peter King has the Packers as his Super Bowl champions, and I know a lot of other experts feel the same way despite no Nelson.
Browns-Jets is the "No Quarterback Bowl." Rex Ryan makes his Buffalo coaching debut, and I could see the Bills upsetting visiting Indianapolis in Tyrod Taylor's first NFL start. Seahawks-Rams should be a defensive slugfest. Titans-Buccaneers is matchup of 2-14 teams from last year but also the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, respectively. Giants-Cowboys is always interesting -- it Odell Beckham Jr. really that good? How much will the Cowboys miss 2014 NFL rushing king DeMarco Murray?
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All would have been good choices, but I'm going with Ravens-Broncos as I expect both to be playoff clubs this winter. King as Baltimore has his AFC champion. Not sure I'm that high on the Ravens. I'm assuming Denver wins another AFC West title in what could be the start of Peyton Manning's final season.
And don't think Week 1 games don't matter. Last year, Seattle beat Green Bay in Week 1 in the Pacific Northwest and that proved to be the tiebreaker between the two teams for where the NFC title game was held.
Ravens at Broncos Betting Story Lines
Baltimore brings back most everyone of note from last year's team that was 10-6 and clinched the final wild-card spot. The Ravens pulled an upset in Pittsburgh in the wild-card round but blew two 14-point leads in the divisional-round loss at New England. The Ravens were able to re-sign running back Justin Forsett, who was a breakout star in 2014 with 1,266 yards rushing and eight scores. I think that's a fluke. The team did lose receiver Torrey Smith (49 catches, 767 yards, 11 TDs) to free agency. That would be my worry here is that receiving corps for Joe Flacco. Baltimore took Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman in Round 1 of the 2015 draft, but he's likely out until October with a knee problem. Second-round pick and tight end Maxx Williams also has been hurt almost all of camp and preseason. He's now No. 2 on the depth chart. So you are likely looking at Kamar Aiken and Steve Smith as your starting receivers and Crockett Gillmore as your primary tight end. Hmmm.
Denver finished 12-4 last regular season, including 8-0 at home, in winning the AFC West for a fourth straight season. But the Broncos were rather banged up entering the divisional-round home game vs. Indianapolis and were upset by Indianapolis 24-13. Manning really tailed off at the end of last season, but there was never any chance he would retire after such a bad performance in that Colts loss. Manning has lost Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas to free agency (12 TDs last year) and starting left tackle Ryan Clady to a season-ending injury.
Of course, Denver's new head coach, replacing John Fox, is Gary Kubiak, who was Baltimore's offensive coordinator last year. Kubiak has installed a West Coast offense and probably would like to run the ball more a bit more in 2015 than the Broncos have under Manning for the most part. Running back C.J. Anderson should have a big season. I am surprised the team waived Montee Ball, however. The Broncos will be without one defensive starter here in safety T.J. Ward. He was suspended one game for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy, Ward made his second Pro Bowl in 2014. David Bruton Jr. will start in his place.
The past two meetings between these teams have been very memorable. They met in the 2013 season opener in Denver because the reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens were unable to host the Kickoff Game due to the Orioles playing that night. Manning threw for 462 yards and an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns in the 49-27 win. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker (gone now) each had TD catches. Flacco threw for 362 yards, two TDs and two picks.
In the 2012 divisional round, also at Denver, the Ravens stunned the heavily-favored Broncos 38-35 in double overtime thanks in large part to a Flacco 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones (gone now) to tie the game with 41 seconds in regulation. Manning threw a costly pick late in the first overtime that led to Justin Tucker's winning field goal.
Ravens at Broncos NFL Week 1 Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the Broncos are 4.5-point favorites (-11) with a total of 49. Denver is -220 on the moneyline. There is currently just an alternate line of Broncos are -4 (-118), but I'm sure there will be several more closer to kickoff. Baltimore was 3-4-1 against the spread on the road last season and 5-3 "over/under." Denver was 4-4 ATS at home and 6-2 O/U.
The Ravens are 5-2 ATS in their past seven Week 1 games. They have covered just five of their past 17 overall against the AFC. The Broncos have covered only one of their past five in September. The under is 5-2 in Baltimore's past seven September games. The over is 5-0 in Denver's past five season openers. The favorite is 5-1 in the past six meetings. The over is 4-0 in the past four.
Free NFL Betting Picks: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos Betting Predictions
I believe the Denver defense is going to be very good under new coordinator Wade Phillips. The Ravens lost a few guys off their 2014 unit. And you know the Broncos' offense is better than Baltimore's. Kubiak will no doubt have some secrets on how to deal with Flacco and Co. (former Bears head coach Marc Trestman is Baltimore's new OC -- that's a downgrade!). Give the points and go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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