NFL Experts, Matchup Preview: 2013 NFL Week 1 – Baltimore at Denver -9, Kickoff & Pick!

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Welcome back all SP users! Another NFL season is FINALLY upon us and we’re all just chomping at the bit to get it started! The National Football League opens the much anticipated 2013 season on Thursday (Sept. 5, 2013) with an exciting match-up in Denver when the Broncos host the Super Bowl winning Ravens.  We want to wish each and every one of you a great season and we’re just happy to be back for yet another great year at SafePicks!  Okay, without much further ado, let’s get right into Week 1 – let’s go first to that exciting kickoff in Denver.

Baltimore @ Denver -9:  Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be the place for when it all goes down, the kickoff to open the 2013 NFL season.  QB Joe Flacco leads the Super Bowl champion Ravens into Denver, where Peyton Manning and the Broncos are highly touted contenders to be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy come February.  QB Flacco will be eager to show he’s worth the $120 million contract he received in the offseason thanks to the Ravens’ title triumph over San Francisco for the Super Bowl trophy.  Now it’s a re-worked Ravens squad who will take the field, without retired defensive and emotional leader Ray Lewis, and then some, more later.  The Broncos have endured some turmoil, too, with linebacker Von Miller suspended for six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.  Nevertheless, four-time Most Valuable Player, Peyton Manning, is widely expected to guide Denver to the playoffs as he did last year in his return from multiple neck surgeries. Now, the Broncos have waited almost eight months for their chance to avenge last season’s dramatic divisional playoff loss to a Ravens team that appears ready for the challenge this week.  Riding an 11-game winning streak and ahead by seven late in the fourth quarter, Denver appeared headed to the AFC championship game last season, until Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left, forcing overtime and stunning the Broncos. The Ravens went on to a 38-35 double-OT victory in which QB Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns – along with that long TD to Jones – in the playoff win.  Then that propelled them to a 28-13 win at New England the next week, and they went on to beat San Francisco 34-31 (it was also a SafePicks NFL Expert Prediction) to claim their first Super Bowl title since 2000.  And the rest is history.

Although the Super Bowl champion Ravens are without some familiar faces, they are up for the challenge Thursday in Denver.  The host Broncos hope to achieve the goal they fell short of a year ago, thanks to the Ravens.  It’s a mouth-watering kickoff to open the season for sure!  Baltimore is playing on the road, by the way, because the Orioles will be hosting the Chicago White Sox next door to M&T Stadium on Thursday. The teams share parking lots and a solution for both to play at home could not be reached.  That is why breaking a decade-long tradition of the Super Bowl champs opening the next season at home was the only option here for the NFL.  The situation would have been avoided had the NFL and Major League Baseball been able to resolve the scheduling conflict.  Looking to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champs since New England in 2004, Baltimore will again be without some key contributors from last year, including two long-time stalwarts of the team’s vaunted defense.  Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired after 17 seasons and safety Ed Reed signed with Houston.  Gone as well are leading tacklers Bernard Pollard and Dannell Ellerbe and fellow defensive starters Paul Kruger and Cary Williams.  However, linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Lardarius Webb are healthy, and former Bronco Elvis Dumervil (whom the Broncos released) will try to bring down Manning.  Dumervil, who combined with Von Miller for 29 1/2 of Denver’s league-best 52 sacks last season, signed with Baltimore in March.  Though last season’s leading receiver Anquan Boldin is in San Francisco and tight end Dennis Pitta is out indefinitely with a fractured hip, Ray Rice remains in the backfield for the Ravens.

Rice’s 1,143 rushing yards were his fewest since his 2008 rookie season, but he led the team with 10 total touchdowns and tied for second with 61 receptions.  Rice’s 7,505 yards from scrimmage since the start of the 2009 season are the most in the NFL.  He rushed for 131 yards and a TD on 30 carries in the playoff victory over Denver.  QB Flacco is coming off an NFL playoff season throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Including postseason, he’s thrown for 956 yards with six TDs and one pick while going 3-1 against the Broncos.  He’ll face a Denver team that ranked second in the NFL in total defense at 290.8 yards per game and fourth in scoring defense at 18.1 points.  However, star linebacker Von Miller is suspended for the first six games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, while cornerback Champ Bailey’s status is uncertain due to a foot injury.  Denver’s ultimate fortunes hinge on the right arm of the 37-year-old Manning.  Manning threw 37 TDs and recorded a 105.8 passer rating in his first year in Denver.  He passed for 290 yards and three TDs against Baltimore in the playoffs, but was intercepted twice and sacked three times.  Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker combined to catch 23 touchdowns from Manning.   Also in the mix is veteran Wes Welker, whose 672 receptions since the start of 2007 are the most in the NFL during that span. Welker signed with the Broncos in the offseason after six years in New England. Rookie Montee Ball, the NCAA FBS leader with 83 career touchdowns, joins Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman in a Denver backfield that for the time being will be by committee.

The Ravens are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games in Week 1 and the Ravens are 4-0 ATS in ,their last 4 games overall. The Broncos are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 Thursday games and the Broncos are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games overall. Although the Favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last 5 meetings between these two teams, the Ravens are 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 meetings versus the Broncos.  Manning usually takes a couple of weeks to break-in and the pressure is on the Broncos, not the Ravens, heading into this matchup.  Frankly, we’re not totally sold on the Broncos product (nor their Super Bowl aspirations) this year, with several question marks still outstanding in our minds.  While the Ravens, on the other hand, still have something to prove – no matter how much revenge the Broncos seek to exact.  We most certainly like the points in this matchup.  We also like the Ravens in an outright win too.   The latter might be a stretch, but we like the value in this pick.  Regardless, we’re taking the points on this valid dog.  This game could very well come down to a near-final possession or field goal.   But we expect the Ravens to pick up where they left off.  We did it for you all in the Super Bowl. Let’s do it again?  Baltimore outright.   Baltimore 27, Denver 24

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