The Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos square off in the season opener, a rematch of the thrilling AFC Divisional round playoff game from a year ago, and both teams will field rosters that saw significant changes in the offseason.
The Broncos added Wes Welker, are likely turning the running back position over to a rookie and lost pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, who is now with the Ravens. Baltimore basically gutted its Super Bowl team. Ray Lewis retired, Anquan Boldin was traded, and Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed signed elsewhere. Paul Kruger and Dannelle Ellerbe signed big contracts in Cleveland and Miami, respectively.
However, the changes don't stop there. Training camp delivered big blows to both teams. The Broncos lost Von Miller for the first six games of the season for failing the league's drug test, meaning the team is now without its top two pass rushers from last year. They also lost veteran center Dan Koppen for the season with a torn ACL.
Miller's importance only grew with the loss of Dumervil. Koppen is an even bigger loss, as he will miss the entire season. With Peyton Manning constantly changing up plays at the line of scrimmage, Koppen was one of the more instrumental players on the field. It's up to Koppen to adjust the protection along the line as Manning checks into different plays, but the Broncos will have to hope his backup can quickly pick up on the system.
Things weren't much better for the Ravens, who lost tight end Dennis Pitta for the season with a dislocated hip, a very rare injury for football players. Pitta was expected to become one of the key targets on the team and the receiver that would take over a lot of the lost production when Boldin was traded to San Francisco. Boldin and Pitta were the two players that worked the middle of the field and came up with big catches to move the chains.
It looks like Ed Dickson, who has a lot of talent but doesn't run great routes or have great hands, will have step up and try to fill the void. The team is also hopeful that Tandon Doss, who has been basically training to take over for Boldin for two years, can break out in his third NFL season.
It's going to be interesting to see how these losses affect both teams in the season opener. The Broncos are certainly the more stable team coming into the season, and it would be surprising for the Ravens to struggle for a few weeks until the players become more familiar with each other. With that said, losing Miller for the first six weeks is going to put a ton of pressure on Manning and Co. to put a lot of points on the scoreboard.