OWINGS MILLS - The Baltimore Ravens enter Saturday's divisional round matchup with the Denver Broncos as nine-point underdogs. They're being picked against by most national pundits - many of whom are predicting a sizable victory for the Broncos. And it seems like few on a national level seem to believe that Baltimore has much of a chance to go into Denver and come away with a win against arguably the NFL's hottest and most complete football team.
"That's fine," Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said. "We appreciate it. We love that. ... We talk about that [stuff] all the time. We love being the underdog. ... We see that everywhere. Every time you turn on the damn TV, you see somebody talking about the Broncos and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. That's great. That's great. I wish I could tell you what I really want to say."
However, it's not hard to understand why Denver enters the weekend as sizable favorites.
The Broncos are a team seemingly without any glaring flaws.
Their Peyton Manning-led offense averaged more than 30 points per game during the regular season and their Von Miller and Champ Bailey-led defense tied for the league-lead in sacks and ranked third in the NFL against both the run and the pass.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are a team with an offense that sputtered through much of the final three months of the regular season and a squad with a defense that struggled at times against the pass, had issues at times stopping the run and had problems at times generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. And they're a team that Denver beat 34-17 in December, a game during which the Broncos led 31-3 early in the fourth quarter before Baltimore mounted two late scores.
But Williams seems to have genuinely embraced the underdog role heading into Saturday's rematch with Denver.
And asked why he likes being viewed as the underdog, he responded: "Because we get to go out there and prove people wrong."
And, despite the loss to the Broncos Dec. 16, Baltimore likes its position heading into Saturday.
The Ravens rested most of their offensive starters amid their regular season finale, but they posted a season-high 533 yards amid their 33-14 victory against the New York Giants a week earlier and had 441 yards in their 24-9 wild-card win against the Indianapolis Colts this past weekend.
Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for a combined 591 yards and four touchdowns against the Giants and Colts without tossing an interception while the running back tandem of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce rushed for a combined 403 yards in those two games. Baltimore's offensive line, meanwhile, much-maligned throughout much of the year for its struggles in pass protection, yielded just one sack against Indianapolis and held a potent New York pass rush without a single takedown of Flacco.
But it hasn't just been the offense.
The Ravens' defense held the Andrew Luck-led Colts without a touchdown after allowing the fourth-fewest yards per game (299.0) during the final four weeks of the regular season.
"Everybody has an opinion," Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Whatever that opinion is, let them have it. One thing about it, the game has to be played. No matter what anybody says or who they feel is going to win, you have to play on Sunday. That's the way we feel. Let the game play out, because at the end of the day some people are going to be right and some people are going to be wrong."
Added Williams: "I love being an underdog. I actually feed off of that, so I'm glad people are talking about how great Peyton Manning is and how great they are as an offense. People are counting us out. We like that."NGATA HONORED: Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was selected by USA Football to the 2012 USA Football All-Fundamentals Team, which honors 26 NFL players - 11 offense, 11 defense and four special teams - who exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate.
Each player chosen for the All-Fundamentals Team will receive a $1,500 equipment grant from USA Football to donate to the youth or high school football program of his choice. USA Football, the sport's national governing body in the United States, is the official youth football development partner of the Ravens, the NFL and each of the league's other 31 teams.
Ngata has battled through a sprained knee and injured shoulder for much of the year but finished the regular season with 51 tackles and five sacks and was selected to his fourth straight Pro Bowl in late December.
RAVENS SIGN PRACTICE SQUADER: Baltimore signed center Reggie Stephens to its practice squad Tuesday, filling the spot vacated by the release of former second round pick Sergio Kindle.
The Ravens are the fourth team that Stephens has spent time with since being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft.