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NFL Divisional Playoffs - Jan. 12-13

Ravens vs Broncos | Texans vs Patriots | Packers vs 49ers | Seahawks vs Falcons


No. 4 Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at No. 1 Denver Broncos (13-3)

Saturday, January 12 - 4:30pm et/1:30pm pt on CTV



Manning, Broncos hope to send Lewis into retirement

DENVER (AP) -- Sometime after the season is over, Peyton Manning will sit down with Ray Lewis and congratulate him on a job well done.

During Lewis' 17-year career, he redefined his position and cemented himself as one of the most fearsome players in the game.

What Manning hopes to avoid is congratulating Lewis on winning a second Super Bowl.

In what could be the last game for Baltimore's seven-time All Pro linebacker, who is retiring after this season, the Broncos and Ravens meet Saturday in the AFC divisional playoffs. Two NFL icons, each three wins away from a second championship.

Watch the game on CTV and CTV.ca live now.

"I've addressed it every time I've played against him. He's an excellent player," said Manning, who'd rather share his most heartfelt praise for Lewis with the man himself than with the media. "He's special. That's all you can say."

Special as Lewis may be, Manning has won his last nine games against the Ravens.

Befitting a player who thinks about Super Bowls above all else, only one of the defeats really sticks with Lewis: a 15-6 loss to the Colts in the 2006 divisional playoffs. Indianapolis then won the Super Bowl.

"We gave up five field goals to him and they went on to win the Super Bowl," said the inside linebacker, who returned from a biceps injury last week and finished with 13 tackles in a 24-9 win against the Colts. "That hurts to lose to somebody you thought you had beat and then they go on to win the Super Bowl. All the other times, whether you win or not, there's only one champ at the end of the day, and if that isn't you or the team that beat you, then so be it."

The Broncos (13-3) are nine-point favourites against the Ravens (11-6) and the odds-on favourite, at 3-1, to win the title.

And while Lewis may carry the baggage from the game six years ago, it's the meeting between these teams a mere four weeks ago in Baltimore that holds the most weight in the respective locker rooms this week.

Denver won that game 34-17, though it really wasn't that close. Manning threw for only 204 yards, but Knowshon Moreno rushed for 115 as the Broncos built a 31-3 lead. The Ravens, playing without Lewis that day, got a couple courtesy scores at the end.

For Denver, it was supposed to be the first truly stern test during what has become an 11-game winning streak, compiled mostly against teams with losing records that were out of the playoff picture.

Previous Matchups
Dec. 16, 2012 DEN 34 @ BAL 17
Oct.10, 2010 DEN 17 @ BAL 31
Nov. 1, 2009 DEN 7 @ BAL 30

For Baltimore, it was a humbling comedown, but one the Ravens have spent this week excusing, going with a variety of explanations: Lewis and several others were out of the lineup, Broncos receivers pushed off too much, etc.

"We'll make it different," said Ravens receiver, Anquan Boldin, in a tone-setting statement that came after Baltimore's win in the wild-card round. Boldin got shut out in the first meeting against the Broncos.

The Broncos have not been big on bravado all season and they're not changing a thing for the playoffs. With Manning setting the tone, they remain focused and sound very much like a team that isn't taking anything for granted -- not even a rematch against a team Denver beat by 17 on the road.

"That was then and we're getting ready for now," defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio said. "It was almost a month ago. We had a plan, went up there and we played pretty well. Each week we start fresh and talk to our guys about the things that they're good at, the things we need to be able to limit."

In addition to Boldin, who had 145 yards receiving against the Colts, the Broncos must keep tabs on versatile running back Ray Rice. They did that well in the first meeting, when Rice finished with 38 yards rushing and 3 receiving. Baltimore was trailing 10-0 late in the second quarter when Chris Harris picked off Joe Flacco's pass and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown.

Game over.

"Before that turnover, that's when the turn of events happened with guys out," Rice said. "We aren't going to make any excuses, but I don't want to go into that game letting their defence dictate how we play ball. We have a certain way we play around here. It's playoff football."

The Broncos like to think they've been playing playoff football for a while. Manning certainly has. All the doubts about his throwing motion, the strength of his neck and the chemistry with his receivers have pretty much been erased over a season in which he threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns.

One of the few remaining question marks is Manning's 0-3 playoff record in games played when the temperature is below 40 degrees. The high in Denver on Saturday is forecast to be 20. Manning has been practicing and playing with a glove on his throwing hand for the last few weeks -- a nod to the reality of the changed feel of his grip since his neck surgeries. Everything else, however, remains the same concerning his preparation.

"I had an old coach who used to always say, 'If all of a sudden you have to do something different in the post-season to get ready to play, that means you probably haven't been doing the right things during the regular season to get ready to play,"' Manning said. "So I've always tried to prepare every single week as if it was a playoff game or the Super Bowl, whatever it is. That's your job as an NFL player."

If Manning does his job this week, he will bring Lewis' career to an end with only one Super Bowl title while the quarterback will remain in line for his second. Lewis insists the Ravens are ready.

"Arguably, they are the best team in football," he said. "If that's what it is, then let's line up and let's be who we are, and let's get ready to play the best team in football."

Players To Watch
Ray Lewis - Linebacker

Lewis returned to the field against the Indianapolis Colts and provided a huge emotional lift for the Ravens in the win. The inspirational factor won't be quite as big on the road this week but Lewis still motivates his guys like no one else can. Besides the leadership element he also led the Ravens with 13 total tackles last week.

Knowshon Moreno - Running Back

Moreno played a big role in the Broncos 34-17 win over the Ravens during the regular season piling up 118 yards on 22 carries. The Broncos area pass first team with Manning under centre but they will look to keep their attack balanced with a decent dose of Moreno to keep the Baltimore defence honest.


The Ravens win if...

On paper, the Ravens are heavily out-classed going into their showdown with the Broncos. Iif they want to prolong Ray Lewis' retirement tour they need to find a way to put Peyton Manning on the ground.

2012 Team Stats
Points BAL 24.9
DEN 30.1
Pass Yards BAL 233.7
DEN 283.4
Rush Yards BAL 118.8
DEN 114.5
Points Allowed BAL 21.5
DEN 18.1
Pass Yds Allowed BAL 228.1
DEN 199.6
Rush Yds Allowed BAL 122.8
DEN 91.1

When Manning has time he picks teams apart. It will be up to the Ravens defensive line to establish consistent pressure on Manning and force him to get rid of the ball early. The Ravens know they likely won't be able to completely stop him, but containing Manning will give them a chance at victory.

Offensively, the Ravens could really use another week like the one they just got from quarterback Joe Flacco to complement Ray Rice in the running game. Flacco only completed 12 passes in the win over Indianapolis but was able to connect with his receivers on the deep ball and averaged a ridiculous 23.5 yards per completion.

Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith should have plenty of confidence in their quarterback and would love to see the same type of down the field throws again this week.

The Ravens will also still be riding the emotional high of trying to win another title for Ray Lewis who's impending retirement has given the team an added shot in the arm for their palyoff run.

The Broncos win if...

Peyton Manning has owned the Ravens in his career having won his last nine games against Baltimore. If he does what he always seems to do against Baltimore than the AFC's top seed should have no problem advancing.

For all of Manning's heroics throwing the ball, establishing the run game like they did in the regular season against Baltimore will also be a key for Denver. Led by Knowshon Moreno's 118 yards, the Broncos piled up 163 rushing yards in the win three weeks ago.

On defence Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will be tasked with making sure Joe Flacco doesn't have the time he needs to air it out like he did last week. Miller (18.5 sacks) and Dumervil (11 sacks) are one of the NFL's best pass-rushing tandems. If they have their way on Sunday, this game could turn into another rout.

Team Leaders

Baltimore
Passing Joe Flacco 59.7% 3,817 Yds 22 TD 10 INT
Receiving Anquan Boldin 65 Rec 921 Yds 14.2 Avg 4 TD
Rushing Ray Rice 257 Att 1,143 Yds 4.4 Avg 9 TD
Tackles Bernard Pollard 71 Solo 27 Ast 98 Tot 2 Sacks
Sacks Paul Kruger 9 Sacks 42 Tkl 1 FF 1 FR
Interceptions Cary Williams 4 INT 90 Yds 17 PDef 1 TD

Denver
Passing Peyton Manning 68.6% 4,659 Yds 37 TD 11 INT
Receiving Demaryius Thomas 94 Rec 1,434 Yds 15.3 Avg 10 TD
Rushing Willis McGahee 167 Att 731 Yds 4.4 Avg 4 TD
Tackles Wesley Woodyard 70 Solo 44 Ast 114 Tot 5.5 Sacks
Sacks Von Miller 18.5 Sacks 68 Tkl 6 FF 0 FR
Interceptions Chris Harris 3 INT 144 Yds 12 PDef 2 TD


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