Let’s get right to it: There may be no better team in football than the Denver Broncos, or at least that case can be made.
The Broncos (9-1) own the AFC’s best record and did what no other team had done through the first 10 weeks of the season in toppling the Chiefs on Sunday night in prime-time action. Denver is explosive offensively, scoring at a pace that reminds many of the 2007 Patriots.
The group is full of stars, led by Peyton Manning, who is producing at a clip that surpasses any other season in his career.
It hasn’t all been perfect for the Broncos on offense, however, as the line has endured some struggles, due in large part to losing All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady for the season with a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
The Broncos also have had to endure being without their head coach, as John Fox required open heart surgery earlier this month, with Jack Del Rio, their defensive coordinator, serving in an interim capacity.
For more on the Broncos, below is our weekly primer.
Record: 9-1 (1st in AFC West)
Head coach: John Fox (3rd season)
Offensive coordinator: Adam Gase
Defensive coordinator/interim head coach: Jack Del Rio
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. QB Peyton Manning. The orchestrator of this high-powered offense, Manning has played near lights-out football this season. He has 34 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and though there are some questions about his ability to consistently drive the football down the field as a residual effect of neck surgery in 2011, Manning is surgical at the line of scrimmage and a mastermind under center. He’s recently dealt with ankle issues, though he’s never been particularly fleet of foot. Given the offensive line struggles the Broncos have had, however, Peyton’s ability to stay up right has been a focus.
2. WR Wes Welker. Welker needs no introduction, as he managed six brilliant seasons as a Patriots from 2007-2012. Tough, quick, shifty, reliable and productive, he does it all from the slot for Denver. He’s part of the league’s best trio of receivers (more on the others to come) and has emerged as a lethal red zone threat for the Broncos. He already has nine touchdowns this season, tying his career high set in 2011. Welker’s departure from New England was one of the most discussed transactions of the offseason, and he’ll be a primary focus this week for the Patriots’ secondary. Welker was diagnosed with a concussion following the team’s last game, putting his status for this Sunday in doubt.
3. WR Demaryius Thomas/WR Eric Decker/TE Julius Thomas. While Welker does his damage primarily on the inside, the Broncos boast a pair of perimeter targets in Demaryius Thomas and Decker, both draft choices by Josh McDaniels while he was in Denver. Demaryius Thomas is the most explosive player on the Broncos offense, while Decker can do it all himself. As if those two and Welker weren’t enough, Julius Thomas has emerged as one of the top young tight ends in football, the latest in a line of former college basketball studs turned tight end. He was dealing with an ankle injury leading up to Week 10 and promptly took his first reception 74 yards for a touchdown. Safe to say he’ll be on the radar this week.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. LB Von Miller. After missing the first six games of the season due to a suspension, Miller has returned and given the Broncos a huge boost in their front seven. He’s among the most talented edge players and pass-rushers in the NFL, as was evidenced by his 30 sacks during his first two seasons. Miller has long arms, excellent first-step quickness and very good power to complement his athleticism. He racked up a pair of sacks against the Patriots during a 2012 regular-season meeting.
2. LB Danny Trevathan/LB Wesley Woodyard. This duo flies under the radar a bit, but it’s a productive pair that makes plays both against the run and pass. Both players come from the University of Kentucky, but neither was a major draft prospect, as Woodyard went undrafted and Trevathan was a little-known sixth-round pick in 2012. They’ve done more than enough to announce their presence since. They are the team’s leading tacklers and Trevathan came up with one of the biggest plays of the season with a game-altering interception late in their wild win over the Cowboys back in Week 5.
3. CB Champ Bailey. Bailey’s status for Sunday night is unknown, as he hasn’t played in a month and continues to deal with a foot issue. But, in the event that he does play, Bailey represents a cornerback that for many years was at or near the top of his position. Bill Belichick has shared no shortage of praise for Bailey throughout the years, as the 6-foot, 192-pound 35-year-old has picked up 52 interceptions in his 14-plus seasons. If he plays, he likely won’t be at 100 percent, but Bailey can still be a difference maker for the Broncos defense.
OTHER NOTES: The Broncos rank fourth in run defense with 92.7 yards allowed per game, something that is partially due to playing from ahead so often this season. ... Conversely, they rank 28th in pass defense with 279 yards allowed per game, again due in part to the fact that they are often playing from ahead, leading teams to have to throw to play catch-up. ... Rookie running back Montee Ball has come on of late, with three touchdowns in his past three games. Knowshon Moreno remains the lead role back for Denver, however. ... Veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer played just one defensive snap through the first seven weeks of the season, but has been more regularly involved in recent weeks in sub packages. ... Veteran defensive end Shaun Phillips is a major bargain on his $1 million salary with a team-leading nine sacks.