Special To GamingToday
Here’s something you don’t often see – a defending Super Bowl champion opening the next season as a prohibitive underdog in its first game.
In fact, it’s happened only once before, when in 1970 the defending champion Chiefs traveled to Minnesota and were a 12-point dog (High-fives to the Gold Sheet folks for digging up that spread for me). The Vikings, who lost to KC in the previous year’s Super Bowl, won 27-10.
Early this summer the Baltimore Ravens were even the longest shots on the 16-game board at some Vegas locales at +9½. But that number has since melted to Denver at -7½.
In the Super Bowl era, this marks the sixth time the champ has been an underdog to open the ensuing season. In those five previous games, the Super teams were 1-4 SU and 2-3 ATS. Only the 2002 Patriots prevailed outright, beating Pittsburgh 30-14 as a 2½-point underdog.
Thursday’s game also features a playoff revenge factor. It’s the 10th time a champion has opened against a team it just trampled in the postseason. In those previous nine games, the Super teams were 5-4 SU and 4-3-2 ATS in the Week 1 rematch.
Now for a closer look at the opener:
PRO FOOTBALL – THURSDAY, SEPT. 5
Baltimore Ravens (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Line: Broncos by 7½ (48½ total)
Facts: Until last season’s loss by the Giants to Dallas, defending champs were 12-0 straight up in openers dating to 2000 (8-2-2 ATS). Of course, the Super squads also were at home in 11 of those games. … The Ravens had enormous success last postseason as a big underdog – famously beating Denver 38-35 in 2 OTs at +9 and the next week pounding New England 28-13 as an 8-point dog. Before those upsets, Baltimore had lost 14 straight games as an underdog of 8-plus points dating to 1995. … The only other time Denver played host to the defending champs in Week 1 was in 1981, when the Broncos beat the Raiders 9-7 as a 2½-point underdog… QB Peyton Manning and the Broncos were 6-3 ATS at home last season. In the six seasons before before No. 18’s arrival, Denver was 5-24-2 against the line at Mile High… Speaking of spreads, last year’s Ravens had by far the worst regular-season ATS mark of any Super champ team dating to 1976, going 6-10.
Analysis: This should be one of the most emotional openers in recent years, especially with Denver fans slobbering for revenge against the team that knocked their top-seeded team from the playoffs. On the other side, ex-Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil now wears a Ravens costume and will be attempting to chase down Manning. And with Broncos LB Von Miller also gone (suspension), what’s Denver got for a pass rush? Not to mention that it appears unlikely Broncos CB Champ Bailey will start and provide veteran leadership. The game should come down to Denver’s passing game vs. Baltimore’s effective running game behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, with bulldozing FB Vonta Leach leading the way. They should enable Baltimore to stay close against a weakened defense.
Forecast: Broncos 31, Ravens 28
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].