After months of anticipation, Joe Flacco and the Ravens kick off the 2013 regular season against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos tonight. Much less anticipated is the season debut of my weekly gameday feature, Four Ravens predictions sure to go wrong. Each week, I’ll make four semi-bold predictions for the Ravens game. Try not to take them too seriously, OK?
1. TORREY SMITH WILL BEAT THE BRONCOS DEEP AGAIN: In last year’s playoffs, Smith twice beat Champ Bailey for long touchdowns receptions. Bailey could be sidelined Thursday with a foot injury, so new Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may instead draw the assignment of covering Smith. Either way, though, I like the speedster’s chances of getting behind the Denver defense to produce another big play against a secondary that could start youngsters Rahim Moore and Duke Ihenacho at safety. Outside of that, though, don’t be surprised if Smith struggles to shake free of press coverage. That’s what happened when these teams met in the 2012 regular season.
2. THE RAVENS WILL STRUGGLE INSIDE THE RED ZONE: The last time we saw the Ravens play meaningful football, they were extremely efficient inside the red zone. The Ravens scored on 10 of their 14 trips inside the red zone during the postseason, including two of four trips in the Super Bowl. But much of their success had to do with wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta being big, reliable targets in the middle of the field. Neither will be on the field Thursday and tight end Ed Dickson is dealing with a hamstring injury. Flacco’s lack of familiarity with his new possession receivers should be a factor when the windows get tighter inside Denver’s 20-yard line.
3. WES WELKER WILL BE PEYTON’S FAVORITE TARGET: Denver’s big offseason addition was former New England Patriots slot machine Wes Welker, who caught 672 passes in six seasons with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Now the lucky guy is running routes for another sure-fire Hall of Famer in Manning. The Broncos already have a pair of tall, dangerous outside receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and those guys will be a handful for the Ravens secondary. But I see him targeting Welker the most Thursday. Graham is likely to cover Welker in the slot and he had trouble sticking with him at times in the playoffs last season.
4. ELVIS DUMERVIL WILL SACK HIS FORMER QUARTERBACK: Dumervil only played one season with Manning in Denver, but in practice every day he saw how difficult it was to get to Manning. Not only do the Broncos have a pretty good offensive line, but Manning also has one of the NFL’s quickest trigger fingers. Even with Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens’ rush might only sack Manning a couple of times. But look for Dumervil to get at least one of them. This week, he downplayed playing his old team, but he is supremely motivated to have a monster game.