AFC West: AFC North

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 4-7

April, 27, 2013
Join our NFL experts for Rounds 4-7 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Rds. 2-3

April, 26, 2013
Join our NFL experts for Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2013 NFL draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 6 p.m. ET. See you there.

Countdown Live: 2013 NFL draft, Round 1

April, 25, 2013
Join our NFL experts for the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

We'll be analyzing every pick from 1 to 32. We'll get started an hour early at 7 p.m. ET, so submit your questions and comments and we'll see you there.

Live: #bloggermock draft

April, 23, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they play general manager for their divisions and execute a 2013 first-round mock draft.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at noon ET. You can also participate via Twitter using the hashtag #bloggermock. See you there.

Countdown Live: Ravens-Broncos

January, 12, 2013
Join our NFL experts for the playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

Joe Flacco/Von MillerGetty ImagesThe Ravens must do a better job of protecting Joe Flacco, left, from Von Miller and the Broncos pass rush than they did during the team's meeting last month.

This feels like Double Coverage déjà vu. It was only four weeks ago when we were talking about these same two teams. If you don't remember, or you're a Ravens fan trying to forget, the Broncos rolled to a 34-17 win in Baltimore.

Since that time, the Ravens regrouped with a 33-14 win over the Giants and delivered an emotionally charged 24-9 playoff win over the Colts in the wild-card round. Baltimore has now won at least one game in each of the past five postseasons.

The Broncos finished out the regular season with 11 straight wins to capture the top seed in the AFC. In the previous 42 seasons, there have been eight teams to enter the playoffs with an active win streak of at least 10 games, and half of them made the Super Bowl.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley discuss whether Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game will be a repeat of the regular-season rout.

[+] EnlargeLewis
Kirby Lee/US PresswireTeam leader Ray Lewis was not in uniform for the regular-season meeting between the Ravens and Broncos, a 34-17 Denver win.
Hensley: The Ravens are decided underdogs in this game, and they should be. Baltimore hardly looked like a playoff team in getting beat by 17 points by Denver last month, and Peyton Manning didn't even have a great game. The Ravens believe the outcome will be different because they're healthier. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and the Ravens' top two tacklers (safety Bernard Pollard and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe) will play this time after missing the last game against the Broncos. The Ravens' best offensive lineman, guard Marshal Yanda, will also be back in the lineup. This, at least, gives the Ravens some hope.

Williamson: There’s no denying this: The Denver Broncos are confident going into this game. They should be. They are 13-3. They have won a league-high 11 straight games. They pounded the Ravens in Baltimore four weeks ago in their best overall game of the season. But be sure of this: Denver respects Baltimore. It is not overlooking this game because of a potential Manning-Tom Brady showdown in the AFC title game. The key to Denver’s winning streak has been its focus on the upcoming game and its ability not to get ahead of itself. As Jamison said, the Ravens are healthier this week than they were in December, and the Broncos know it. They have spoken of that fact all week. This is a good approach for Denver. The Broncos feel good about themselves, but they are focused on the Ravens. Let’s face it, the Broncos should win this game, but an upset is not out of the question. Jamison, what do you think are some keys to this matchup?

Hensley: The biggest matchup is one the Ravens lost badly the first time. It's the Ravens' offensive line against the Broncos' pass rush. Joe Flacco was sacked three times, and he's not the same quarterback when he gets hit early. Pressure on Flacco often results in turnovers. It's kind of a running theme, but the Ravens hope it will be different this time because their line looks different. For the wild-card victory Sunday, the Ravens put Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, moved Michael Oher to right tackle and shifted Kelechi Osemele to left guard. McKinnie allowed one quarterback pressure against the Colts, and the Ravens gave up one sack. As you know, Bill, it's an entirely different challenge with Von Miller and the Broncos. What's the key matchup from the Broncos' standpoint?

Williamson: I think it starts here. I don’t know if the Ravens are going to have an answer for that. Sure, they did some line shuffling last week. But that is a sign of desperation. Denver’s pass rush is top-notch. It was all over Flacco last month. It set the tone for the game. Expect Denver to bring the heat early. The Broncos are well coached, but there isn’t a lot of mystery. They focus on what they do well, so don’t expect any funny business. Denver knows it got to Flacco easily four weeks ago and it will try to do the same thing. Miller is one of the best pass-rushers alive. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Miller had 11.5 of his 18.5 sacks on third downs in 2012. It was the highest total in the NFL in 20 years. But Denver’s pass rush is much more than the menacing Miller. Elvis Dumervil is a standout, and Denver gets great push from the defensive front. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Denver defense has sacked or put the quarterback under duress on 28 percent of opponent dropbacks this season. It was the highest rate in the NFL. Against Baltimore, Denver put Flacco under duress 33 percent of the time. That is extremely taxing for an offensive line and quarterback. It is something Baltimore will have to account for.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMIPeyton Manning has a less-than-stellar playoff record, having gone 9-10 in postseason games.
Hensley: Bill, there's no doubt the Ravens have to keep the pressure off Flacco. Baltimore's pass rush, which had its moments against Andrew Luck last Sunday, has been hampered by Terrell Suggs. Injuries to his Achilles and biceps this season have kept him from looking like the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Suggs has only two sacks this season and made one tackle against Denver. Paul Kruger has been the Ravens' best pass-rusher this season. He had a career-high nine sacks in the regular season and added 2.5 more in the playoff game. But the biggest pressure on Manning might not involve Suggs or Kruger. Since he won the Super Bowl, Manning has been one-and-done in three of his past four postseasons. Manning has had a reputation of faltering in the playoffs. Now, with the Broncos being the top seed and Manning being an MVP candidate, all of the pressure is on No. 18. Bill, do you see that being a factor?

Williamson: The guy has been so spectacular all season, I don’t see a lot of pressure. I mean, this is a 36-year-old man who missed all of the 2011 season because he had four neck surgeries. His recovery was the story of the NFL offseason. He responded with one of his best NFL seasons in a new setting and he is a top MVP candidate. I think the pressure is off. Now, it's true that he has not been great in the postseason. He is 9-10 in his career. If Denver loses Saturday, it will certainly be a major storyline. But I don’t think there is a lot of worry in Denver about Manning’s playoff history. Maybe because everyone is so confident in how he fits with this team and the supporting cast around him. This is arguably the best team he’s played on.

Hensley: Well, Bill, I'm not breaking new ground by saying this isn't the best defense Lewis has played on. No one will be making any comparisons to the 2000 record-setting defense, but the 2012 defense is better than what people think. The Ravens were the second-best red zone defense in the NFL this year and stopped the Colts on all three trips inside the 20-yard line last Sunday. Over the final six games, Baltimore allowed the NFL's fourth-fewest yards per game. But the best defense against Manning might be the weather. Bill, do I need to bring my snow shovel?

Williamson: You might want to pack an ice scraper, but nothing too serious. The forecast calls for a chance of snow. I think the biggest issue will be the cold. That could help the defense. Interesting that you mention the Ravens’ defensive success in the red zone. There have been times when Denver’s offense has stalled in the red zone. For Baltimore to win this game, it needs to hold Denver to three points more often than not and create big plays on defense. I don’t think it is out of the question that Baltimore wins this game, but the truth is that Denver is balanced and rolling. The Broncos will need to make an unusual amount of mistakes and the Ravens will have to cash in every time. I’m not sure if that will happen. I think this game will be closer than the last meeting, but I still give Denver the edge.

NFL: Week 15 knee-jerk reactions

December, 18, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you might even have heard it here. So, are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

AFC West Pro Bowl voting update

December, 12, 2012
The Pro Bowl voting process is continuing. Here is a look at the AFC West players who are in the top five at their position in the fan voting. If a position is not mentioned, there are no players from the division in the top five. Voting goes through Dec. 17:


First place: Peyton Manning, Denver

Running back

Fifth place: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City


Third place: Marcel Reece, Oakland

Fifth place: Chris Gronkowski, Denver

Wide receiver

Fourth place: Demaryius Thomas, Denver

Tight end

Fourth place: Antonio Gates, San Diego


Second place: Ryan Clady, Denver


Second place: Zane Beadles, Denver


Third place: Dan Koppen, Denver

Defensive end

Second place: Elvis Dumervil, Denver

Outside linebacker

First place: Von Miller, Denver

Second place: Wesley Woodyard, Denver

Third place: Justin Houston, Kansas City


First place: Champ Bailey, Denver

Free safety

Fifth place: Rahim Moore, Denver


First place: Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

Fifth place: Matt Prater, Denver


Second place: Shane Lechler, Oakland

Fourth place: Britton Colquitt, Denver


Third place: Trindon Holliday, Denver

Special teams

Third place: David Bruton, Denver
Miller-ReedGetty ImagesSunday's Broncos-Ravens game will be a defensive showcase with LB Von Miller and S Ed Reed.
Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens features two division leaders in contention for the AFC's No. 2 seed. It's also a potential showdown between two of the best players at their position who are both on the comeback trail. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is an MVP candidate after missing all of last season with a neck injury. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is looking to return just eight weeks removed from surgery on a torn triceps and get Baltimore back on track in the playoff race.

ESPN bloggers Bill Williamson and Jamison Hensley discuss this matchup:

HENSLEY: The banged-up Ravens defense is not coming into this pivotal matchup on top of its game. The Ravens have lost their past two games by allowing two backup quarterbacks, Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins, to come back against them in the fourth quarter. There is some hope with the potential return of Lewis and Terrell Suggs, two former NFL Defensive Players of the Year. But this isn't exactly the way Baltimore wants to head into a matchup with Manning, who has owned this team. Manning has won his past eight meetings against the Ravens, including five in Baltimore. The last time the Ravens beat Manning was 2001, when they were defending Super Bowl champions. Bill, is there anything the Ravens can do to slow him down?

WILLIAMSON: What the Broncos have going for them heading into this crucial game is that they are red hot. What else would you want going for you in mid-December? They have won eight straight games and own the longest current winning streak in the NFL. Denver is a season-high No. 2 in this week’s Power Rankings. Of course, it all starts with Manning. As Jamison points out, Manning has owned the Ravens. Something is going to give Sunday. While Manning has some power over the Ravens, his new team doesn’t. The Broncos are 0-5 all-time on the road against the Ravens, including in the playoffs. The question is, what is more important, Manning’s history or the Broncos’ recent history? I’d think the Broncos’ instant success since signing Manning may answer that question.

HENSLEY: I've witnessed every one of those Manning victories. The fun part about watching them is the verbal chess match between Manning and Lewis. Manning does his famous audibles at the line, and Lewis counters by yelling at his teammates on where to move. Lewis is expected to return this week after tearing his triceps two months ago. It's a season-ending injury for many players. Most thought Lewis wouldn't return this season. But he proves time and time again that you shouldn't count him out. I never expected Lewis to be playing middle linebacker at 37 years old. While Lewis can't run sideline to sideline like he did years ago and he can't get off blocks as easily, his leadership to the Ravens is invaluable. It's why Suggs always refers to Lewis as "The General." Even if Lewis and Suggs are able to play, the best linebacker on the field Sunday won't be wearing purple.

WILLIAMSON: I’m sure the Broncos would prefer Lewis to stay out for another week because of his leadership and his ability to inspire his team. Who else besides Lewis can get the Ravens out of their mini-funk? But physically, I give the Broncos and Manning the edge here. Lewis just isn’t the player he was and as Jamison hinted up top, there will be a dominant, young linebacker on the field. While Manning is a leading MVP candidate, second-year Denver outside linebacker Von Miller is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His top competition is Houston’s J.J. Watt. While Watt’s team floundered Monday night at New England, Miller and his defense have a chance to shine in their big game Sunday. Miller has been brilliant. He has 16 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown. Most important, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 has become a complete player. He does so much more than just put heat on the quarterback. His overall game savvy will be on display.

HENSLEY: Bill, those six forced fumbles have to concern the Ravens because quarterback Joe Flacco's pocket awareness has been terrible recently. Flacco was among the league leaders in fumbles last season with six, and he has fumbled the past two games. It’s also bad timing for the Ravens to take on the team ranking second in the NFL in sacks. There’s a chance that the Ravens will be without their best lineman, right guard Marshal Yanda, who has a significant ankle sprain. The Ravens could reshuffle the line and put Michael Oher at right tackle (he has allowed two sacks that have led to fumbles the past two games) or stick with rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele (who has allowed eight sacks). Miller has dominated right tackles this year, so Baltimore needs someone to step up at that spot. In an effort to slow down the pass rush, look for new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to use more no-huddle (to wear down the Denver linemen), go with more maximum protection schemes and get the ball to Ray Rice on screens.

WILLIAMSON: You are right, Jamison, I think the Broncos will be squarely focused on stopping Rice. The AFC West has seen this season how Rice can ruin an afternoon. Fourth-and-29 anyone? The Broncos are well coached on defense and they adjust well. What impresses me most about this defense is that it improves as the game goes on. Like Manning and the offense, this defense gets better in the second half. So, yes, Baltimore may have some success with Rice both running the ball and on screen plays, but I’m not sure it will be able to sustain it all game long. Baltimore will have to get more varied in its offensive attack throughout the course of the game to put pressure on Denver. That will be a lot to ask from Caldwell in the first game he has called strictly on offense since 2000, when he was at Wake Forest.

HENSLEY: I think Rice is the Ravens' X factor on offense. But, Bill, I have to admit I think Rice is always the X factor when it comes to the Ravens. When they get him 20 touches, it usually results in a win. On defense, it's safety Ed Reed. He has been quiet lately with one interception in his past five games. But Reed is going to be a free agent at the end of this season, and going against the top quarterbacks brings the best out of him. Reed picked off Manning three times in a playoff game three years ago, but two of them were taken away because of penalties on other Ravens players. I remember talking to Reed a few years ago when he talked about why he deserved a new contract. "Peyton Manning doesn't sleep when he sees No. 20 going to Indy," Reed said. Let's see if he'll be Manning's nightmare Sunday.

WILLIAMSON: Look, I’m a big Reed fan. I always enjoy watching him. I love how players like him have helped change the importance of the safety position in today’s NFL. If the Ravens are going to pull out of their collective doldrums, they will need a player like Reed to make a big play or two Sunday. He is fully capable. Denver will have to account for him. But it all goes back to my original take: Denver is the hotter team and has the hotter players. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Ravens rise up. They are great at home and good teams like this rarely lose three straight games. But I do know that Denver, which has been playing at a high level in all phases, will not go into this game with a lack of confidence. The Broncos believe in themselves and they know eight-game win streaks don’t happen in the NFL by accident. Denver will be a team with a purpose Sunday.

NFL: Week 14 knee-jerk reactions

December, 11, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you might even have heard it here. So, are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

NFL: Week 13 knee-jerk reactions

December, 4, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you might even have heard it here. So, are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

NFL: Week 12 knee-jerk reactions

November, 27, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you might even have heard it here. So, are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

NFL: Week 11 knee-jerk reactions

November, 20, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you may have even heard it here. So are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

NFL: Week 10 knee-jerk reactions

November, 13, 2012
You’ve heard the chatter by the sports pundits and on the talk shows. Heck, you may have even heard it here. So are the knee-jerk reactions about your team based in reality? Our NFL bloggers weigh in.

NFC Knee-jerk Reactions | AFC Knee-jerk Reactions

Monday Night Live: Chiefs-Steelers

November, 12, 2012
Join our NFL experts as they break down the "Monday Night Football" match up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.