The regular season is at hand and every NFL fan is eternally grateful. What better way to kick it off than putting the two teams that arguably played the best game of 2012 together again. The Denver Broncos are out for revenge after the Baltimore Ravens stuck a dagger in their hearts in January. Which match-ups will determine the outcome?
#5. Manny Ramirez vs. Haloti Ngata
The interior of the Denver Broncos offensive line has undergone a lot of changes in recent weeks, and not all of them good. While Louis Vasquez was a nice addition at guard, the potentially bothersome spot is at center. Both Dan Koppen and J.D. Walton are out with injuries, forcing the Broncos to rely on seven-year veteran Manny Ramirez started 11 games last year, but all at guard. He will have to face All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata while also snapping the ball to Peyton Manning. Not exactly the best way to ease an inexperienced player in.
#4. Jimmy Smith vs. Wes Welker
Corey Graham won the starting cornerback job opposite Lardarius Webb, relegating 2011 first round pick Jimmy Smith to the nickel corner job. If that weren’t bad enough, the young kid will draw All-World slot receiver Wes Welker as his primary assignment. Without Ed Reed and Ray Lewis to cover for him, Smith is in for a very interesting night against one of the most difficult cover assignments in the NFL, especially when a Hall of Fame quarterback is throwing it to him.
#3. Jacoby Jones vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
On the other side there is an underscored matchup between two unproven talents. Both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Jacoby Jones have shown flashes of brilliance in the past but neither has fully realized their potential. Now they go against each other with lots to prove. Jones is taking over for beloved veteran Anquan Boldin while Rodgers-Cromartie tries to erase the stigma of his forgettable time in Philadelphia. It should make for an interesting contest given the other is between Champ Bailey and Torrey Smith.
#2. Julius Thomas vs. Michael Huff and Daryl Smith
One of the preseason wonders was Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. After struggling with injury problems in the past, he is finally healthy and showing his team what he can do. Peyton Manning has liked him enough to the point where Denver elevated him to starter for Week 1. The Baltimore Ravens defense better take notice considering free agents safety Michael Huff and linebacker Daryl Smith will draw the responsibility of keeping him covered. Both are older players let go from other teams and must try to fill the void left by Lewis and Reed. Manning is sure to use Thomas to exploit that loss. How those two hold up will prove vital.
#1. Ravens offensive line vs. Broncos pass rush
A big reason Baltimore beat Denver in January was because they protected Joe Flacco when it mattered. Nothing has changed since that time, except now the pressure is on the Broncos. Not only is pass rusher Elvis Dumervil gone and playing for the other side, but star Von Miller is suspended for the first six games of the season. Those losses put the weight squarely on second-year defensive end Derek Wolfe and veteran former Charger Shaun Phillips to pick up the slack. A raucous Mile High crowd will be of help, but whether it’s enough is highly questionable.