Some of the key performers remain heading into their Thursday night game at Sports Authority Field (at Mile High) that opens the 2013 NFL season. But enough has changed through injuries, suspension, trades, free-agent departures and retirements to raise new strategic questions for our consideration.
We've heard all offseason about the Ravens' missing six defensive starters from their Super Bowl victory plus offensive mainstays Anquan Boldin (who was dealt to Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco) and Matt Birk (who retired). We've wondered what some of the changes would mean for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
On Thursday night, finally, we'll start to find some answers. But first we pick up the conversation with Matt Williamson, NFL scout for ESPN.com.
Sando: You've been saying the Ravens could have the best defense in the league and a much better one than they fielded in 2012. The Broncos could have the best offense. That's a great matchup, but not necessarily the most intriguing one. The approach Baltimore takes on offense will be fascinating. The Ravens just paid Flacco all that money. They're facing a Denver defense without top pass-rusher Von Miller and possibly without top corner Champ Bailey. But at the same time, the Ravens have lost key weapons on offense. They have limitations.
Williamson: This is the perfect environment to put it on Flacco's shoulders. We can't compare the two quarterbacks in this game, but is Baltimore willing to say, "OK, Joe, go hurry-up, change the plays at the line, go no-huddle -- we'll put you in the gun and it's your show"? The Ravens have a good offensive line. I fully expect the Ravens' front five to handle four Broncos rushers, minus Miller and with Elvis Dumervil now on the Ravens.