Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

Prediction: BAL 20, DEN 31 (Line: DEN by -9)

Players of Interest: Any BAL receiver besides Torrey Smith, Montee Ball, Wes Welker

The Ravens beat the Broncos 38-35 in Denver to reach the AFC Championship and later Super Bowl. That obviously makes this the revenge game of the week. The Ravens show up with less of a team than last year with notable defections/retirements on both sides of the ball. They are the ruling Super Bowl champs though and they better get used to everyone bringing their A+ game against them. This is the Thursday night game that kicks off the season. So maybe the Broncos will be focused.

1 @DEN - 10 CIN -
2 CLE - 11 @CHI -
3 HOU - 12 NYJ -
4 @BUF - 13 PIT -
5 @MIA - 14 MIN -
6 GB - 15 @DET -
7 @PIT - 16 NE -
8 BYE WEEK 17 @CIN -
9 @CLE - ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
BAL @ DEN Rush Catch Pass
QB Joe Flacco 260,2
QB Matt Schaub 220,1
WR Steve Smith 5-50
PK Justin Tucker 2 FG 2 XP

Pregame Notes: It is my contention - or conspiracy theory - that almost every year there is a team of destiny which just wins in spite of what is expected and that gets the right calls, bouncing balls and a sense of chemistry that seems to just appear later in the season. Not that the Ravens were a bad team, but they end the year as the best of all and that was a surprise to most. Including Vegas who really counts in these matters. The Ravens get to re-assert themselves now with different personnel and show that it was no fluke. And that the NFL is not just a reality show scripted by Ray Lewis.

QUARTERBACKS: The Ravens went into 2012 wanting Joe Flacco to prove himself before re-upping him with a new contract. That merely cost them $120 million for six years. That was a King's ransom for a quarterback who never passed for more than 3817 yards or 25 touchdowns in a season. For whatever reason (see conspiracy theory above), he had maybe the best four games of his career in the playoffs last year. Flacco threw for multiple touchdowns in only three of his first 13 games until catching fire at the scripted right time.

Flacco passed for 331 yards and three scores in Denver last January.

RUNNING BACKS: Ray Rice seemed like a disappointment last year when he only ran for 1143 yards and ended with 1621 total yards and 10 touchdowns. That was only because he totaled 2068 and 15 scores in 2011. He still remains one of the most productive backs in the NFL over the last four seasons and a central focus of the Ravens offense. His carries did fall to 257 last year but he always has 60 to 70 catches every season. What happened in 2012 was that Bernard Pierce ran 108 times for 532 yards though he only scored once and had almost no role as a receiver. When something helps you win a Super Bowl, it is a safe bet that the conduct will be repeated. So while Pierce rarely had more than ten touches in any game, he had enough to materially drop Rice's production at least marginally. Since Pierce did not exceed 30 yards in most weeks, I will not bother projecting for him in the first game.

Ray Rice ran for 131 yards on 30 carries and scored once in Denver though he had no receptions.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Like Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin saved the playoffs for three of his four best games of the year. Unlike Flacco, the 33-year old receiver was shown the door and asked to throw out a bag of trash while we walked past the dumpster by the parking lot.. Boldin really was never much more than a 850 yards per season possession receiver until the playoffs. He'll likely be a pumpkin again in San Francisco. But he was the leading receiver for the Ravens and was not replaced. Torrey Smith now must shoulder the #1 load though his first two seasons were also near bookend years with 50 catches for about 850 yards and seven scores. He was supposed to become the primary last year and so far he's just a speedy #2 who this year complements no one. Jacoby Jones has danced his way into being the #2 now and he seeks to improve on his career best mark of 2010 when he gained 562 yards and three scores in Houston. Brandon Stokley is now 37-yeards old and was dumped by the Broncos. He has not managed a season with more than 550 yards since 2007 and he just joined the Ravens on August 11th. And he is the #3 now which should be an indicator that the passing effort is going to be a bit more challenged this year. Maybe a lot more.

Of the Ravens three main receivers now, they combine for only one season over 1000 yards. And that was Stokley when he had that freakish year as a Colt nine years ago. Rare so much rebuilding on a team that won it all last year. Might be rebuilding next year too.

Anquan Boldin (6-71), Jacoby Jones (2-77, TD) and Torrey Smith (3-98, 2 TD) all had nice games in Denver last January.

TIGHT ENDS: As if that was not enough, Dennis Pitta became Flacco's security blanket last year and scored three times in the playoffs. But he suffered a badly dislocated hip in July that may force him to miss the entire season and in all cases a good chunk of the year to start. That leaves blocking tight end Ed Dickson and 34-year old Dallas Clark who has been a non-factor since 2009. Again - not a positive development.

Pitta caught three passes for 55 yards in Denver.

MATCH TO DEFENSE: Now it is to the Ravens advantage that CB Champ Bailey may miss this week with a sprained foot. And LB Von Miller is gone for six games on a suspension. The loss of Elvis Dumervil doesn't help the pass rush effort either. But played in Denver on Thursday night should be plenty motivation for Jack Del Rio's defense and the Ravens are not exactly bringing in the same offense as last season. Missing Bailey means that it is safer to consider Smith for a start and Ray Rice is always a sure bet. But for week one, the rest of the Ravens look unattractive this week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The passing game no longer has Pitta or Boldin. That's a big chunk of the offense that someone has to fill.

Gaining Fantasy Points BAL 17 7 22 9 9 14
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 9 5 2 30 4 8


1 BAL - 10 @SD -
2 @NYG - 11 KC -
3 OAK - 12 @NE -
4 PHI - 13 @KC -
5 @DAL - 14 TEN -
6 JAC - 15 SD -
7 @IND - 16 @HOU -
8 WAS - 17 @OAK -
9 BYE WEEK ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
DEN vs BAL Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning 330,3
RB Montee Ball 60,1 1-10
RB Ronnie Hillman 20 4-30
WR Emmanuel Sanders 5-70,1
WR Demaryius Thomas 5-90,1
TE Owen Daniels 3-40,1

Pregame Notes: The Broncos were the team to beat in the AFC last year and that is exactly what these Ravens did. Peyton Manning's first season back from neck surgery was a huge success and he brought along the entire offense with him. It was a bitter pill to swallow when the Ravens pulled out the win and that will be on everyone's mind from last year. The offense has even been upgraded with Wes Welker and Montee Ball in the backfield. The defense may not be quite as good for 2013, but that only means more Manning. And that is always a good thing.

QUARTERBACKS: After sitting out a year with a bad neck, Peyton Manning came back in pretty good form. His 4659 yards ranked second best in his career as did his 37 touchdowns. He never failed to throw at least one touchdown in every game and only four times did he not end up with multiple touchdown passes. He was vintage Manning while making Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker into his new version of Harrison/Wayne. And now he gets Wes Welker? And an easy schedule? Just hardly seems fair.

Manning passed for 290 yards and three scores on the Ravens in the Divisional Round last year. He threw two interceptions and lost one fumble in a very uncharacteristic game. He might remember that day.

RUNNING BACKS: Willis McGahee has retired now (effectively anyway) but he was playing well until fracturing his leg bone and tearing up his MCL. To replace him, the Broncos went to the draft and selected Montee Ball who was a workhorse at Wisconsin. He is undoubtedly the most talented back on the roster in the long-term, but until the team can feel comfortable with a bigger workload and duties on passing downs, the Broncos are going to use some committee approach. That means Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno are in consideration as well and it certainly clouds what to expect from Ball (or anyone for that matter).

This is a pass first offense but the backs combined for 449 carries for 1825 yards and 23 touchdowns last year and also had a collective 66 receptions for 529 more yards and a score as well. There is enough to share here. What week one will start to answer is how much the sharing reduces or boosts any individual player's value. Hillman is the official starter for the game but that only covers the first play. It is a powerful offense and should the Broncos elect to use any back as a full-timer, there is plenty of fantasy value to grab.

The Broncos rushed for 115 yards and no scores on the Ravens last January.

WIDE RECEIVERS: This could be downright scary. Last year there was Demaryius Thomas (94-1434-10), Eric Decker (85-1064-13) and Brandon Stokley (45-544-5). Now subtract Stokley and add in Wes Welker. Three wideouts combined for 224 catches, 3042 yards and 28 scores last year. Now they swap Stokley for Welker? In the immortal words of Flounder " this is gonna be great!" In fantasy drafts, the trio of Thomas/Welker/Decker have been all gone by the 23rd wideout drafted. That's scary good.

Demaryius Thomas was held to three catches for 37 yards and one score by the Ravens. Eric Decker accounted for 84 yards on six receptions.

TIGHT ENDS: Julius Thomas has become the Broncos starting tight end thanks to injury to Joel Dreessen (knee scope) but the third-year tight end only has one catch over his two year career in Denver. He was hyped in the summer but being the #4 receiver (at best) doesn't spark too much optimism about fantasy value. Especially with the one career catch. Stranger things have happened but Thomas is unlikely to offer much fantasy value this year.

Jacob Tamme (3-44) and Joel Dreessen (6-46) were unusually busy in that playoff loss to the Ravens.

MATCH TO DEFENSE: While it is early to consider any obituary for the Ravens defense, the loss of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will have some effect. Perhaps not the profound negative that some believe though. Bernard Pollard is also gone. But they did acquire LC Elvis Dumervil and drafted S Matt Elam in April. The defense may take a step down but it is not going to be a free fall by any means and the aging stars that have left had less impact than you might think.

That all said, the Broncos are at home on Thursday night in front of the world against the team that derailed what was thought to be a certain Super Bowl bid. The secondary gets to find out what three great wideouts are like while the rushing attack should be better than it was in January. This is a big game - no reason not to play any of your Broncos.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Wes Welker is a big addition and how he is incorporated into Thomas and Decker should be fascinating. And Montee Ball has Willis McGahee appeal and more but a proposed committee could neuter all the backs in Denver.

Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 6 14 2 7 7 3
Preventing Fantasy Points BAL 7 15 20 4 29 11

WEEK 1 BAL at DEN (THU) GB at SF *NE at BUF *TB at NYJ

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