Jussel: Numbers that matter as we count down to kickoff
Here are some numbers for you, numbers that don’t add up, but make sense.
The first numbers are 38 for the Baltimore Ravens and 35 for the Denver Broncos, the final score that led to what may have been the longest offseason ever for the Broncos and their fans, mind-blowing to the max.
Next is the number 8: That’s the number of new defensive starters the Ravens will have on the field tonight when they take the field again in Denver to open the new NFL season.
Noticeable by their absence, the numbers 52 and 20, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, surefire Hall of Famers who are now gone, Lewis to retirement, Reed to the Houston Texans.
Returning starters are cornerback Corey Graham, linebacker Terrell Suggs and nose tackle Haloti Ngata. Of the eight new defensive starters, only one, ex-Bronco Elvis Dumervil, was a starter last season in the league.
Continuing with 8: The Ravens, who should be the toast of the NFL, are rated only the eighth-best team in the league in a sampling of power polls ranging from CBS to ESPN to AP32 to Fox. The defending champs aren’t getting much respect.
Here’s another number, 2.9: Think the Broncos have struggled in preseason in rare attempts to run the ball? The Ravens averaged only 2.9 yards per carry in preseason.
Pro Football Focus, a website that grades players at all positions, says all five offensive linemen who have started for the Ravens received negative run grades, including left guard Kelechi Osemele, centers Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley, right guard Jah Reid and right tackle Michael Oher. Osemele’s minus-6.8 grade is lowest in the NFL at his position among all players who remain on a roster.
Let’s next try 9: That’s the point spread on this one, with the Broncos favored. Oddsmakers and bettors alike must be paying attention to items listed under the Nos. 8 and 2.9 above.
How about a number that may make all of the above meaningless tonight, $120.6 million.
That’s the contract amount spread over six years signed by villainous Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco after leading his team to the Super Bowl crown. It’s the richest contract ever for an NFL player and the biggest reason the NFL, the absolute best at marketing itself, has placed Flacco’s larger-than-life likeness all over Denver.
If Flacco can come close to re-creating his performance the last time he appeared in Denver, he already will be providing dividends on the Ravens’ investment. There are several numbers, however, that won’t allow that to happen.
First and foremost is 18.
Yes, Peyton Manning is alive, well and will be better this season than he was last season. And, yes, he does have a memory and, yes, he has heard every naysaying from every naysayer since that Jan. 12 debacle and, yes, he has the ability to do something about it.
Let’s add Nos. 80, 83, 87 and 88 to the mix. These are the folks who are going to be catching passes from No. 18 — lots and lots of passes. You are all familiar with Wes Welker (83), Eric Decker (87) and Demaryius Thomas (88) for past exploits, Welker’s in New England, Decker and Thomas with Denver.
Get ready to become more than a little familiar with Julius Thomas (80), the team’s new starting tight end, a young athletic former college basketball standout who exploded onto the preseason scene after two years of struggling with injuries. If you haven’t done so already, you’d better get him on your fantasy team.
While we’re at it, add in Nos. 49 and 290. Those digits are a preview of what’s to come with the Bronco offense. They were hatched in the third preseason game in a win over the St. Louis Rams when Denver, with Manning at the controls, ran 49 plays in the first half for 290 yards. Over an entire game, that would be 98 plays and 580 yards. Yikes!
Which brings us to No. 58 and No. 6: Yes, Von Miller’s number and the biggest reason 18, 80, 83, 87, 88, 49, 290 and all the other offensive numbers become so relevant. The Broncos are going to have to run up large numbers because their defensive unit will be hampered with Miller suspended the first six games.
Tonight’s contest will be a big test for a number of reasons: Season opener, tough opponent, putting old demons to rest, and, yes, heaping immediate pressure on AFC West foes.
All the numbers add up to Manning leading Denver to a victory.
The Broncos loom large, 42-24.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.