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Week 1: Ravens-Broncos matchup analysis

The SportsXchange

Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has at least two No. 1-type wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, and a third in Eric Decker who led the team with 13 touchdown receptions in 2012. Welker gorges on misfit nickel cornerbacks who underestimate his suddenness out of breaks and willingness to pay for catches between the hashmarks. The Ravens face many unknowns up the gut without departed middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed, but have the luxury of sitting in zone until the Broncos show their stable of running backs can move the chains against seven in-the-box defenders. The Ravens sped up the tempo of their offense late last season and all the way to the Super Bowl, including roaming huddles in the upset of the Broncos on the same field in January with quarterback Joe Flacco tossing 32-, 59- and 70-yard touchdowns. All but the 70-yarder to Jacoby Jones came against Champ Bailey, the Broncos' top cover man who will miss Thursday's game due to a left foot injury. Denver's reshuffled linebacker corps, minus Stewart Bradley and suspended pass-rusher Von Miller, can gear up for Ray Rice as a receiving threat with Dennis Pitta (hip) out. Rice ran 30 times in the January win, but as a tag team with Bernard Pierce isn't likely to hit that tongue-wagging number in Week 1 at high altitude.

*Matchup to watch - Broncos offensive line vs. Ravens front seven: OLB Elvis Dumervil faced Broncos LT Ryan Clady for years in practice before he bounced to Baltimore in the offseason, but he hasn't played this position in four years. Creativity and versatility are strong suits of Baltimore's defense with Pro Bowl-caliber personnel in Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs to find and strain Denver's vulnerable front five. Clady missed all offseason workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery and center Manny Ramirez is unproven.

*Player spotlight - Ravens FS Michael Huff: Reed was able to read and bait Manning as well as any defender can with pre-snap disguise and movement. Huff, who played some cornerback with the Raiders last season, is physical, heady and covers a lot of ground. However, he'll have to be locked in on every snap to match Manning in a cerebral chess match.

Broncos TE Julius Thomas: He's not much of an extra blocker, but Thomas, a raw 2011 fourth-round pick with one year of football experience coming out of Portland State, has great hands and athleticism to expand Manning's options. Linebackers won't be able to run with Thomas and safeties will be dwarfed by the 6-5 target.

*Fast facts: Baltimore has won five consecutive openers. ... Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 3-1 against Denver. ... Jones led the NFL with a 30.7-yard kickoff return average last season. ... Denver has the NFL's longest regular-season winning streak (11 games). ... Manning has 12 season with at least 4,000 passing yards, an NFL record. ... Welker leads the NFL with 560 receptions since 2008. ... The Broncos are playing without Miller and Dumervil, who combined for 29.5 of the team's 52 sacks last season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Baltimore isn't at home to celebrate its Super Bowl wares, and with many new -- albeit veteran -- faces in key positions, the Ravens keep it close, but come up short against Peyton Manning at Mile High.

*Our pick: Broncos 29-22
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