Week 15 is not, in any shape or form, the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. That previous Broncos victory over the Ravens isn’t anything more than a bereft gauge.
It’s just not.
“You throw that out the window,” said wide receiver Brandon Stokley on facing the Ravens for the second time in so many weeks. “They’ve got a lot of new pieces in. They’re playing a lot better. The last game, it doesn’t matter at all.”
Denver won handily in the previous engagement, 34-17. Manning was precise, he completed 17-of-28 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos maintained possession for over 38-minutes and rushed for 165 yards on the ground to control the tempo of the game. And the defense held strong; holding Ray Rice to only 38 rushing yards, sacking Joe Flacco three times and force an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The game happened, it’s gone, but it cannot be completely ignored.
“I’m sure it helps them, too,” acclaimed Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh about still having a certain familiarity with Denver that help with a game plan. “We have a lot of foundation of work already done.”
The Broncos are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, which is certainly no surprise to Harbaugh and the Ravens. Denver has won eleven in a row and is seemingly peaking at the right time.
Baltimore still has much to prove. They lost four of their last five regular season games to slide into the playoffs. The Ravens toughed out an opening round victory over the Indianapolis Colts; thriving off the emotional return of linebacker Ray Lewis.
But they’re still here now, aren’t they?
“They are a great team. I’m not taking that away from them. They have earned the right to have their home-field advantage throughout the playoffs,” Ravens running back Ray Rice asserted. “We have earned the right to get another shot.”
It’ll be the Ravens opening to avenge a loss or the Broncos opportunity to reassert Baltimore into their place, either way, by kickoff that likely won’t be the most pressing issue on anyone’s mind. Those petty plots don’t stand a chance.
“They have a lot to prove, but we still have a lot to prove,” said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. “We know that the playoffs are where you make your name.”
This game will be anything but the same, because it’s worth so much more.