In a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game, the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens visit the Mile High City to start their title defense against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos will be out for revenge after Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary to Jacoby Jones tied the game late and Justin Tucker’s field goal in double overtime gave the Ravens the 38-35 win.
Both defenses will be missing key pieces from that high-scoring clash last year for a variety of reasons. The Broncos lost pass rusher Elvis Dumervil to free agency while the Ravens will be missing Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard, and Ed Reed. The biggest pieces missing, though, will be Ray Lewis who retired after last season and Von Miller who is suspended.
With the depletion of both defenses, I expect another very high-scoring game. The Broncos offense is stacked after adding Wes Welker and offer too many options for Baltimore’s defense to smother. The Broncos defense will also be a concern, and if they don’t pressure Flacco he could make some big plays.
With those factors in mind, here are my start’em and sit’em for this Kickoff special of Thursday Night Football:
No-Brainers: If you drafted Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Torrey Smith, or Ray Rice, you drafted them high enough that they need to be in your lineup. The Broncos will have plenty of motivation as they try to erase the memory of last year’s defeat, so expect big games from their marquee players.
Sleeper potential: Julius Thomas is an intriguing name in the Denver offense after earning the starting tight end job in training camp. He’s a stretch to start week one, but if you have Gronk or waited too long to pick a tight end, he is a plug-and-play option. Thomas is a guy to stash on your bench if he’s still on waiver wires as we discussed here in our top ten waiver wire pickups.
If possible, I’d avoid the entire Denver backfield. Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman, and Montee Ball all have potential to be the “feature” back in the Broncos offense, but one fumble or missed blocking assignment could also have them squarely in the doghouse and killing your fantasy team. At this point it’s a timeshare, so stay away unless you have no other options
I’d also stay away from Ed Dickson and Jacoby Jones until they prove they’re ready for their increased roles due to the absence of Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin. With questionable receivers, stay away from Joe Flacco as a starter in single QB leagues, but he’s a servicable number 2 option since I do think the Ravens will be behind and throwing.
Bust Potential: The only regularly starting option that I don’t like in this game is both team’s defenses. The Broncos D/ST were on average the seventh defense chosen while the Ravens D/ST were the 10th off the board (according to ESPN average draft position). Both teams were taken to be starters in ten-team leagues, but both should be avoided in this high-scoring shootout.
Most Thursday Night games tend to be lower scoring as teams come off a short week, but this week is an exception since both teams have been prepping for this all preseason long. The Broncos especially will relish the opportunity to get the win which I think they’ll do convincingly at home.