Much has been made of Peyton Manning's lackluster finish to last season, but the Baltimore Ravens certainly know how well he can open one. After tying an NFL record by tossing seven touchdown passes against Baltimore to begin the 2013 season, Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Ravens to begin the 2015 campaign on Sunday.
"I'm not really worried if it's first game, last game," Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith told ESPN of the 39-year-old Manning, who has thrown 31 touchdowns against one interception in outdoor contests in September since joining Denver in 2012. "He's going to be dangerous. He's still Peyton Manning, no matter what." Manning (4,727 yards, 39 TDs in 2014) and the high-octane offense barely missed a step over the last two seasons until a torn quad in the final month forced Denver to rely on C.J. Anderson and its running game.
Enter Gary Kubiak, the Ravens' 2014 offensive coordinator who replaces John Fox as coach and brings with him a tendency to lean on the ground attack and two tight-end sets. While Denver can light up the scoreboard, Baltimore did its fair share of that as well by scoring a club-record 409 points and amassing 5,838 total yards last season.
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS.
LINE: BRONCOS -4.5.
ABOUT THE RAVENS (2014: 10-6, 3rd, AFC NORTH)
Joe Flacco (3,986 yards, 27 TDs) saw free-agent wideout Torrey Smith head to San Francisco in the offseason while first-round selection Breshad Perriman already has been ruled out of Sunday's tilt with a sprained right knee. Flacco still has grizzled veteran Steve Smith (79 receptions, 1,065 yards, six touchdowns), who believes he has more left in the tank as he enters his 15th season. Journeyman running back Justin Forsett found a home in the wake of the Ray Rice saga, rushing for a career-high 1,266 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (2014: 12-4, 1st, AFC WEST)
An argument against Denver playing conservatively rests in both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who posted career seasons in 2014. Thomas enjoyed personal bests in receptions (111), targets (184) and yards (1,619) while his 11 touchdowns fell shy of his career-high 14 in 2013. Sanders celebrated quite an uptick in production from his days in Pittsburgh, reeling in 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns while Owen Daniels carries a bond with Kubiak from Baltimore to replace fellow tight end Julius Thomas (Jacksonville).
1. Manning threw three touchdowns and six interceptions in his last four regular-season contests in 2014.
2. Former Chicago coach Marc Trestman replaced Kubiak as Baltimore's offensive coordinator.
3. Denver yielded just 79.8 rushing yards per game last season, ranking second to only Detroit.
PREDICTION: Broncos 27, Ravens 17
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