ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It's official. The Broncos' 2013 season will begin against the opponent that knocked them out of last season's playoffs -- the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.
It's a fitting way to start the season, pitting the AFC's No. 1 seed from a year ago against the league's defending champion in a rematch of one of the most exciting games of the 2012 postseason.
"I would love that game," wide receiver Eric Decker said before the matchup was official. "I have a lot of respect for them, Super Bowl champs. That's the best way to prove yourself – playing the best."
Since 2002, the NFL has held a Kickoff Game on the Thursday prior to the opening Sunday of the season.
"It is a tremendous honor for the Denver Broncos, our fans and the entire Rocky Mountain Region to host the NFL's Kickoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High," Broncos Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen said in a statement. "This prestigious game has become one of the league's most celebrated traditions, and we are thrilled to play in it for the first time in our history.
"Opening the NFL season on a national stage against our playoff opponent from the previous year, the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, will be a challenge for our team and very exciting for our fans."
Starting in the 2004 season, the defending Super Bowl champion earned the right to host that game in primetime. But due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles, the Ravens will begin their title defense on the road in 2013.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has participated in the Kickoff Game twice before, with a 1-1 record in the event.
Storylines abound in this season's matchup, starting with the rematch of last year's Divisional Round playoff game.
In January, the Broncos went from a seven-point lead with less than a minute left in regulation, staring at an AFC Championship Game appearance, to being knocked out of the playoffs by a walk-off, 47-yard field goal in double-overtime.
"It's something that we'll never forget," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said Wednesday. "It's not in a bad way, but definitely in a good way. We know what it takes to get back there, and that game makes us hungry. It gives us a little motivation and a big chip on our shoulder to get back."
Denver won't have to wait to see how it fares against the league's best team from a year ago.
The club will get a chance to avenge that loss -- which Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said will be used as a battle cry -- right away.
Not to mention the fact that former Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil now plays linebacker for the Ravens.
"If it's the Ravens, it's the Ravens," Woodyard said when asked about the possibility of the matchup. "We welcome everybody that we've got to play. We don't care; we're just ready to get back out on the field and prove to ourselves that we can be one of the best teams ever."