Today’s Broncos-Ravens matchup is one of quarterbacks who are at polar opposite ends of the “pressure-spectrum.” On one hand you’ve got Canton-bound, all-world Peyton Manning who, if he retired today, before this game’s 4:30pm kickoff, would still be destined to be in the discussion for one of the game’s all-time greats. Manning’s legacy has already been defined, now he is just looking to add some hardware to his resume. Due simply to the fact that at this time last year we were wondering not when but if he would ever play again, Manning is the quarterback with the least amount of pressure to win this weekend.
Then on the other end of the pressure-spectrum you’ve got Baltimore’s Joe Flacco who might be the most accomplished fifth year quarterback in NFL history to never be selected to the Pro Bowl or play in a Super Bowl.
Flacco has set NFL records for playoff wins by a rookie (2), most regular season wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons (54), and is the only quarterback in NFL history to win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons. But despite all that, the self-proclaimed “best” quarterback in the NFL is without a contract for the 2013 season which makes him the only starting quarterback left in the postseason who is playing for his next paycheck.
Unfortunately for Flacco, as an NFL quarterback, until you have proved you can do “it” (and by “it” I mean win, or at least make, the Super Bowl), you are not defined by what you have done, but rather by what you haven’t. Furthermore, fans of the “ADD Generation” do not remember circumstances; they remember results. They don’t care if Lee Evans dropped the game winning touchdown in last year’s AFC Championship game which would have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl, nor the fact that Billy Cundiff subsequently missed an easy 32-yard field goal which would have tied the game. No, all that gets remembered is Flacco lost, again, and is now 0-2 when a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.
Finally, there are 42 other combined starters for the Broncos and Ravens who aren’t named Manning or Flacco that will also have a say in how this game ends. For my money, there are four key factors which determine the outcome of any football game.
1) Win on third down
2) Protect your quarterback
3) Be the least penalized team
4) Win the battle of field position
That’s it, winning and losing in the NFL in a nutshell. The Denver Broncos hold the edge in all four of those factors. On offense they convert 45.1% of their 3rd downs while Baltimore converts at only a 36.9% rate. On defense, the Broncos held their opponents to a conversion rate of 30.6% which led the NFL whereas the Ravens 35.8% was eighth. Peyton Manning was only sacked 21 times compared to Flacco’s 35, and, as a bonus, the Broncos’ D led the NFL with 52 sacks whereas Baltimore’s 37 had them in a three-way tie for 15th. Denver was flagged only 100 times, versus Baltimore’s 121, and in 16 fewer punt returns than Baltimore (33 versus 49) Denver amassed more yards (445 versus 404).
What does this all mean? It means that despite all the hub-a-ba-loo regarding Peyton Manning having never won a playoff game in which the temperature was below 40 degrees at kickoff (0-3), I expect the Denver Broncos to win and win big today (and by big I mean by more than the nine point spread which they currently are) and for the controversy regarding just how valuable Joe Flacco is as an NFL quarterback to continue to be determined another day.