Super Bowl MVPs collide tonight in the opener to the NFL season

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Both Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco have designs on returning to the Super Bowl this season, which is part of what makes tonight's NFL opener on NBC so compelling. Watch the Broncos vs. Ravens live online at 8pm ET.

Many view the Broncos as favorites to win the AFC, especially after adding Wes Welker to a receiving corps that already included Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. It would be hard for Manning to ask for better weapons. However, he knows his window isn’t as wide as it once was. Perhaps that explains his reluctance to discuss last season’s bitter playoff defeat to the Ravens during a Sunday conference call with Baltimore reporters. It was a lost opportunity, and Manning can’t count on many more. “I covered that just about all offseason,” Manning said. “I know I’m talking to you guys for the first time, but I guess you just have to probably check some old clips for quotes.”

Flacco’s memories of last season are much sweeter. But expectations for him have never been higher, after signing a six-year, $120 million contract during the offseason. The Ravens are clearly Flacco’s team now. He carries the responsibility that Manning has carried for years, to be his team’s best player every week. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Ravens get back to the Super Bowl unless Flacco has his best season.
Flacco was the Ravens’ best player during the playoffs. But can he become more consistent during the regular season, as the Ravens tinker with new parts offensively
Two of Flacco’s favorite targets from last season won’t be making the trip to Denver – Anquan Boldin, traded to the 49ers, and Dennis Pitta, injured during training camp. Now Flacco must build chemistry with young receivers like Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette, and new faces like Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark. However, a top quarterback is expected to be effective no matter who he is throwing to. That is what the Ravens expect, and need, from Flacco. As he goes this season, so goes the Ravens’ offense.

“I think he is obviously the centerpiece of our offense,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. “What we try to do is take into account and take a look at what he does well and try no to put him in positions and things he doesn’t like. He can literally do everything. He’s a very, very fine athlete, and so there are hardly any limits with him in that regard. But there are things that he gravitates to more than others.
This is the third time Flacco and Manning have dueled since December. Manning had the better game during the regular season. But Flacco was better during the playoffs. It’s fitting that Flacco and Manning are in the spotlight to open the season – one in his prime, the other looking to augment an already brilliant career with more championships. Neither Flacco nor Manning is satisfied with just one Super Bowl win. The quest to win another begins tonight.

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