Friendly? No. Familiar foes, yes.
Broncos gunslinger Peyton Manning loves to shoot the Ravens down; he's won his last nine straight games and is 2-0 against Baltimore in the postseason. For one reason or another, Manning has always gotten the better of Baltimore – maybe he sees something their defense gives away – which bodes well for the Broncos.
What's more, a few Broncos used to play in Baltimore.
Willis McGahee – who's been on injured reserve since partially tearing his MCL on November 28 – won't be able to play this week but he was back at practice Tuesday. McGahee came to Denver last year, so there's a possibility he can give the defense tips about where the Ravens may run. The Broncos defense all but shut down Ray Rice in Week 15 – holding him to a meager 38 yards – and a repeat performance will almost guarantee a victory.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley started his career with the Ravens, playing there from 1999-2002, winning a Super Bowl with the team in 2000. 14 years later, the smallish slot man is still making an impact, going over 500 yards receiving with five touchdowns this season for Denver.
Backup safety Jim Leonhard played for Baltimore as well, going on a three-game playoff run with them before falling just short of the Super Bowl. Leonhard has been a very valuable veteran member of the secondary, stepping in when starters were injured or needed a breather to accumulate 17 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defended and a fumble recovery. That's all while fielding punts part time as well.
Lastly, there's defensive tackle Justin Bannan, who spent 2006-2009 with the Ravens, while playing 2010 and this season in the Mile High City. Bannan's 42 tackles were nearly a career-high, while he knocked down four passes, stuffed three runs, forced a fumble and recovered one as well.
“This is it. This is why you work so hard,” the 11-year defensive lineman explained. “This is why you give it everything you've got.
“For me to be back here, personally, and have a chance to do this it's a dream come true,” Bannan said of the opportunity to beat his old team. “It's once in a lifetime and I think you've got to seize these moments and give it everything you have.”
The veteran is right; this could be the last time any of them taste the postseason, as nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.
And anyone should be able to see these Broncos are something special. They went 13-3, winning 11 straight games and earning the first round bye, plus home field advantage. A win this week over Baltimore would result in a trip to the franchise's eighth AFC Championship game; Denver is 7-1, losing only their last appearance in 2005 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A victory for Denver would also even their playoff mark with Baltimore at 1-1.
The Broncos easily won their first meeting against the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 15 34-17 leading some to believe it will be a repeat result this Saturday. If Denver is the physically domineering force once again, that will be the outcome, but Baltimore's defense is much more healthy and amped due to the news of Ray Lewis' quickly approaching retirement.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. MT on Saturday, January 12 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS.
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- Peyton Manning needs your votes for FedEx Air Player of the Year
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. You can follow Rich on twitter or facebook for all your Denver Broncos news and opinion.