The Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers headline Week 2 of the NFL preseason in a bout that is surely a Super Bowl pick by many this year.
At the very least, Sunday's affair will act as a precursor to their Week 7 encounter.
Week 1 was entertaining for both sides, with Denver getting a win over the Super Bowl champs and San Francisco losing out in another edition of the Harbaugh Bowl, but the end results do not truly matter.
What does is the continued development of chemistry for the starters and the all-out brawl that is positional battles for a total of just 106 roster spots between two of the NFL's deepest rosters.
Below, let's take a look at how to catch the must-see affair and a few things to key on as the game progresses.
When: Sunday, Aug. 17, at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Watch: NFL Network
Live Stream: NFL Preseason Live
Betting Info: (via Odds Shark)
Spread: San Francisco (-3)
Team Injury Reports
Updated info can be found here once reports are released.
The Forgotten Unit in Denver
It can be easy to forget that the Broncos even field a defense.
After all, the ageless wonder that is Peyton Manning shattered record books last year, and even more attention has been driven to that side of the football this offseason thanks to the loss of wideout Eric Decker and back Knowshon Moreno.
While the spotlight has been there, John Elway and his staff have made major additions to what should be an improved defense.
It is hard to classify who the biggest addition actually is. Look at 32-year-old DeMarcus Ware, who has tallied 37 sacks in the last three seasons alone. In the win over the Seahawks, he was back to his usual self with a sack, a stuffed run at the line of scrimmage and two quarterback pressures, per NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
Do not expect the Ware show to stop, either.
"It is still training camp, where you can throw everything out there. You throw the kitchen sink out there, and at the end of training camp we have the tool box ready for the season," Ware said of his approach to August football, per Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post. "Now, that is what each preseason game is about, to get better."
Ware was not the only addition, though. T.J. Ward, who ranked as the No. 4 overall safety in the NFL last year at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), is on board and brought an attitude last week the unit has been lacking in recent years—he was hit with face mask and pass interference penalties.
Aqib Talib, one of the best cover corners in football, is also a new addition. Perhaps more interesting is the man across from him, No. 31 overall pick Bradley Roby. The rookie made a big impact in his debut, notching four tackles and a forced fumble, which showed the hype for his violence against the run is real.
All of these pieces must continue to jell together as the preseason rolls onward, and a battle with the extremely physical San Francisco ground attack is a great way to accelerate the process.
Rookies on the Rise in San Francisco
For the 49ers, the main storyline is how in the world rookies are supposed to not only make the final roster, but how they will somehow chisel out some playing time for themselves on such a deep overall squad.
Most noticeable is running back Carlos Hyde, who fans could be forgiven for confusing with Frank Gore. The Ohio State product has a lot of work to do in order to steal carries from Gore, but he got off to a great start last week with five carries for 39 yards.
FoxSports.com's Peter Schrager put it best:
2. Carlos Hyde is as good as advertised. He and Gore could make one of the best 1-2s in the league at R B this year. Not sure who's 1 and 2.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) August 8, 2014
Hyde was not alone in his rookie theatrics, though. Fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington is as versatile as it gets at wideout, and he showed that with three catches for 35 yards and tallied 62 total yards on two kick returns.
Ellington has a serious climb of his own thanks to the presence of wideouts such as Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson, but the sky is the limit if he continues to produce at a steady clip.
Flip to the other side of the football, where last week No. 30 overall pick Jimmie Ward took the majority of his snaps at cornerback after being labeled as a safety coming out of college. He did nothing short of shine, and Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com hears that he has already secured his spot:
A matchup with Manning is something that can ruin any defensive back's standing on his team, though. But Ward says he just hopes it turns out to be a learning experience, per Taylor Price of 49ers.com: “I feel like it’s going to be good work and something I can study off of throughout the whole season.”
For better or worse, Ward and his side of the football will get a serious trial by fire Sunday.
What to Expect
Rarely do two teams meet in an exhibition game and give fans something to care about no matter what units are on the field.
Which team wins?
Denver and San Francisco do just that as a byproduct of mastermind roster building that has great talent throughout. There are only so many roster spots up for grabs, so all players will be giving it 100 percent, too.
Each unit comes with a layer of intrigue, but the main focus will be on the starters. Will Manning shred an elite defense? Can the new-look Denver defense somehow stop a physically imposing offense that can also take to the air with great effectiveness?
Don't miss this one, as it might just be the best action fans get before the real thing next month.
Note: Preseason stats courtesy of NFL.com.