13 Ravens opponents in 13 days: Denver Broncos

In anticipation of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will take a daily look at one of the 13 opponents on the Ravens’ regular-season schedule. Today is the Denver Broncos.

On Sept. 5, the wait will be over. The Ravens will open the 2013 NFL season against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the team they beat in last year’s double-overtime divisional round thriller. As you may have heard, this game will be played in Denver, where loud, lubed-up Broncos fans will fill up Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It won’t be an easy opener for the Ravens, but it will be good to get it out of the way in Week 1.

Recapping 2012: The Broncos jettisoned Tim Tebow before the 2012 season, replacing him with Manning (yeah, good call there). It took a few games for the Broncos to get going, but they finished the regular season with 11 straight wins, earning the AFC’s top seed with a 13-3 record, and a top-five offense and top-five defense. Their potential storybook season ended in January, though, as the Ravens were working on their own story, as well.

Cha-cha-changes: The Broncos were one of the biggest winners in free agency, luring super slot receiver Wes Welker away from the New England Patriots and also signing veteran corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. But their parade got drizzled upon a bit when a fax machine snafu led to the release of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, which turned out to be the Ravens’ gain. The Broncos wrapped up their offseason with a seven-player draft class, led by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball.

The skinny: Losing Dumervil will hurt Denver’s defense, but the Broncos do have one of the NFL’s best young pass rushers in linebacker Von Miller and they bolstered an already stingy group with veterans like Rodgers-Cromartie, Knighton and defensive back Quentin Jammer. And the sky is the limit offensively. Manning will be much more comfortable in his second year in Denver, and Welker boosts a receiving corps that already has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Throw in Ball, who replaces the departed Willis McGahee, and the Broncos are stacked.

Recent history: The Ravens and Broncos have played three times during the regular season in the past five years, with the Ravens winning the first two games. The Broncos beat the Ravens, 34-17, at M&T Bank Stadium last December, though, with Manning once again tormenting the Ravens. The Ravens were finally able to beat Manning in the playoffs, winning, 38-35, in Denver.

Degree of difficulty: This is arguably the toughest game on the 2013 schedule. The Broncos are one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, they have the 2012 Most Valuable Player runner-up in Manning, Mile High is one of the toughest stadiums for visitors, and there is the whole revenge factor. I’d say the degree of difficulty is 9.9 out of 10. For what it’s worth, though, the Ravens are 5-0 under John Harbaugh in season openers.

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