BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- Shannon Sharpe couldn't have written a better script.
A seven-time Pro Bowler, Sharpe played the first 10 years of his career with the Denver Broncos and caught 552 passes for 6,983 yards and 44 touchdowns. He left after last season to sign a four-year, $14 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens.
Today, he gets to play against Mike Shanahan and the Broncos for the first time in an AFC wild card game. His seven consecutive 50-catch seasons from 1992-98 are the most by any tight end in NFL history.
This season, Sharpe helped the Ravens reach the playoffs for the first time in the five-year history of the transplanted franchise with a team-leading 67 catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns. They closed the season with seven straight wins to earn the first wild card spot.
The last time a team from Baltimore made the NFL playoffs was in 1977. The Colts, led by Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and Roger Carr, suffered a 37-31 home overtime defeat to Oakland in the AFC divisional round.
Owner Bob Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, leaving Baltimore without an NFL team. Ravens owner Art Modell made a similar move in 1996, relocating his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore and renaming them.
Modell is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1994, when the Browns went 11-5 and beat New England before losing to Pittsburgh. Defensive end Rob Burnett is the only player left from that club.
Denver is back in the playoffs under Shanahan after a one-year absence. The Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, but the retirement of legendary quarterback John Elway, and injuries to Terrell Davis and Sharpe sabotaged them last season.
But with quarterback Brian Griese, rookie running back Mike Anderson, a talented offensive line and receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, the Broncos scored 485 points, an average of 30.3 points, second only to St. Louis.
Today, they face a defense which allowed the fewest points, a total of 165, in a 16-game season. The 1986 Chicago Bears held the record with 187 points allowed.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the leader of a defense which also features outside linebacker Peter Boulware, defensive ends Burnett and Michael McCrary, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Duane Starks and safety Rod Woodson.
Griese may not be able to challenge Baltimore's defense. After already missing five games with a separated shoulder, Griese's return last week was brief in Denver's 38-9 rout of San Francisco. On the Broncos' opening possession, Griese was hit by Brentson Buckner and had his right shoulder driven into the ground.
Griese originally separated his shoulder in a November 13 game against Oakland. Voted to the Pro Bowl despite playing in just 10 games, Griese is the league's highest-rated quarterback (102.9), completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,688 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
If Griese is unable to go, the Broncos will turn to Gus Frerotte, who was 4-1 as a starter in Griese's absence. Last week he threw for 205 yards and a touchdown after replacing Griese.
Either quarterback will have the benefit of throwing to Pro Bowler Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, the second tandem in NFL history to each have 100 receptions in the same season, joining Brett Perriman and Herman Moore of Detroit in 1995.
McCaffrey had 101 catches, establishing a new franchise record. He surpassed Lionel Taylor, who had 100 catches in 1960. Smith finished the campaign with 100 catches for 1,603 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Ravens are also dealing with quarterback injuries, but they expect starter Trent Dilfer to be available for today despite ligament damage in his left wrist.
Dilfer suffered the injury late in the first half of last week's 34-20 win over the New York Jets. But Dilfer returned in the third quarter after backup Tony Banks separated his left shoulder. Banks will not be available today.
Baltimore will rely heavily on rookie Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns this season.
The Broncos ranked seventh in the league against the run, allowing an average of 100 yards per game. Denver's top run-stuffers are Pro Bowl defensive tackle Trevor Pryce and linebacker Bill Romanowski.
Anderson, who has more than picked up the slack for the injured Davis, finished the season with 1,400 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
The unsung heroes of Denver's offensive line -- center Tom Nalen, guards Dan Neil and Lennie Friedman and tackles Tony Jones and Matt Lepsis -- along with premier blocking fullback Howard Griffith are responsible for Denver's domination in the trenches. Tight ends Dwayne Carswell and Desmond Clark and McCaffrey and Smith also contribute heavily to the effective blocking scheme.
The winner of this game will meet the Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoffs.
The Broncos won the only previous meeting, 45-34 in 1996.