Two of the league’s premier franchise clash in a Week 1 matchup that NFL fans will keep their eye on. Baltimore, Super Bowl champions in 2012, and Denver, winners of four straight AFC West Division titles, square off in a season-opening Sunday game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Ravens vs Broncos odds for the week 1 AFC conference battle have Denver favored at home by 5-points against Baltimore while NFL picks for week 1 on the over/under are posted at a high scoring 48½. Despite those four straight division championships, the Broncos dumped head coach John Fox, now the head man in Chicago. Gary Kubiak, the former offensive coordinator in Baltimore, is the head coach in Denver and has adapted his zone run-based offense to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
The 18-year veteran is finally healthy (a quadriceps injury hampered him in 2014) and the Broncos have a plan in place for resting the five-time league MVP throughout the season. Manning still has plenty of weapons surrounding him including wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryious Thomas. Both Sanders and Thomas recorded over 1,400 yards receiving in 2014 and are primed to do it again. The Broncos did lose one of the game’s better receiving tight ends in Julius Thomas, but gained former Raven Owen Daniel. The Broncos running game will undoubtedly be better as Kubiak brings his philosophy to a capable set of backs led by C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball, and Ronnie Hillman. Both Hillman and Ball suffered injuries last season, so having depth at the position, which Denver does, is a key to covering the point spread as favorites in Ravens vs Broncos odds. Baltimore will be Baltimore again in 2015 featuring a run-stopping defense, a strong ground game, and the heady play of veteran Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens lost All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata, but last year’s first-round draft pick Timmy Jernigan appears ready to take over.
The linebacking corps is solid with Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw on the outside and future star C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith on the inside. The Ravens secondary is solid and is going to have to play well against arguably the league’s best quarterback and one-two receiving tandem if they are to cover the spread as five point underdogs in NFL picks for Ravens vs Broncos odds. The last time Manning faced the Ravens, he threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns. The Ravens offense still has Justin Forsett (1,266 yards, eight TDs) and 15-year veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who is coming off a season where he caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards. They will also have first round draft pick Breshad Perriman but not for the season opener. Perriman suffered a sprained knee in the preseason. Regardless, the Ravens will still have to face a very good Denver defense led by DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. The week 1 season opener (Sunday, September 13th) between the Ravens and Broncos can be seen live on CBS at 4:25pm EST from Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
When it comes to the regular season, teams in the AFC North know how to win games. In fact, three teams in the division won a minimum of ten games last year. As you can expect, those same teams are favored in 2015 AFC North odds to win with predictions favoring the Baltimore Ravens (+190) followed by the Cincinnati Bengals (+220), the Pittsburgh Steelers (+190) and the Cleveland Browns (+900). Although it was the Steelers who last year's title, it is the Ravens who are favored to do so in 2015 despite only winning the division twice since 2008 with their most recent during the 2012-13 season when they hoisted the Lombardi trophy in victory.
As with their Super Bowl victory, defense always plays an important role in regular season in playoff wins. That being said, Baltimore finished last year with six different defensive backs on injured reserved. Head coach John Harbaugh should have better luck at the start of the 2015-16 season with a healthy Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Will Hill who averaged 4.6-tackles in the last eight games of the season. Replacing the big defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with Timmy Jernigan however will be a difficult task.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a solid selection in 2015 AFC North odds to win, that is of course as long as Andy Dalton is behind center. Dalton finished last year throwing 3,398-yards for 19-touchdowns and an 83.5-quarterback rating with most of his TD's settling softly in the hands of A.J. Green who returns for his fifth season. Green will also be complimented by Mohamed Sanu who recorded 5-touchdowns during last year's campaign. The Bengals defense will be the key to Cincinnati getting over their "playoff hump." The trio of Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will need to be a formidable force upfront while cornerbacks Leon Hall and Adam Jones must secure the secondary for Cincinnati to have a chance of winning the division.
And then there are the Cleveland Browns. After putting their hopes in Johnny "football" Manziel and striking out horribly, the Browns picked up Josh McCown from the Buccaneers to be the signal caller this year. The offense will be missing the speed of Josh Gordon serving a year-long suspension due to drug related suspensions but should have an interesting trio of Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Brian Hartline (Dolphins) and Terrelle Pryor (Seahawks) attempting to pick up the slack. On the defense, first round draft pick Danny Shelton (Washington) should make an immediate impact at the line of scrimmage while the free agent signing of CB Traymon Williams (Packers) and experience of Justin Gilbert must live up to their potential for Cleveland to reach the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers went a profitable 11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS last season to win the AFC North title but could be in for a bit of regression this year despite what handicapping predictions are claiming. Yes, the offensive will still have Ben Roethlisberger at QB, running back LeVeon Bell after serving a two game suspension for marijuana use and wide receiver Antonio Brown terrorizing the sideline but what about the defense? The Steelers did draft three defensive backs to address their riddled backfield after losing Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brice McCain this offseason but the inexperience of the young secondary does not warrant any favorable wagers in 2015 AFC North odds.
The Baltimore Ravens have made the playoffs in six of the seven season in which John Harbaugh has been their head coach. With the Ravens defense returning to Top 10 form in 2014, there is no reason to suspect that Baltimore will not return to the postseason in 2014. In fact NFL odds at sportsbooks have listed the Ravens as a respectable 25/1 longshot in predictions to win the Super Bowl, 12/1 to win the AFC Championship and +190 favorites to win the AFC North. By all accounts, Baltimore has a legitimate chance of making a run to the championship that is until you consider what the organization lost in the offseason.
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak left to become the new head coach in Denver. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata is now in Detroit and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have new homes. Owen Daniels, one of the league’s up-and-coming tight ends, followed Kubiak to Denver. There is no doubt that the Baltimore Ravens lost some key pieces to their roster. Still, the cupboard is not bare, especially on offense. Quarterback Joe Flacco returns after throwing for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. Flacco is strong-armed and smart, traits that have helped him become one of the league’s most unheralded quarterbacks. They also helped him earn a Super Bowl ring and huge contract.
Flacco still has one of the league’s more formidable weapons in 36-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith, who will be playing in his 15th NFL season, finished last year with 79 receptions for 1,065 yards. The Ravens drafted Breshad Perriman (6-2, 212) out of Central Florida to replace Smith. Perriman is basically a faster version of Smith, reportedly having run the 40-yard dash in under 4.3 seconds. Baltimore also drafted tight end Maxx Williams from Minnesota. Williams is a complete tight end who could wind up contributing greatly since the future of Dennis Pitta (hip injuries) is still in doubt.
The Ravens defense will likely carry them to the playoffs and possibly a 2015 AFC North title. The pair of Elvis Dumervil (17) and Terrell Suggs (12) combined for 29 sacks last season. Linebacker C.J. Mosely is quietly becoming one of the NFL’s best at the position. Baltimore plays in what might again be the toughest division in NFL odds, the AFC North. Three teams – Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh – made the playoffs last season. The Ravens will find out very quickly where they are this season when they open the season with Kubiak and Denver and then take on both the Steelers and the Bengals in the first four weeks of the 2015 season.
Ravens Update (9/11/15): Baltimore are now +2000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +900 to win the AFC Conference and +130 to win the AFC North.