Denver vs. Indianapolis: Broncos' Week 1 Game Preview
For the third year in a row, the Denver Broncos will open their season in prime time.
Indianapolis and Denver met on Sunday Night Football in Week 7 last year, and the two teams will open the 2014 season in the same spot. Denver will be hoping for a good result as it kicks off its season at Sports Authority Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Broncos are coming off a successful preseason, looking every bit like a team hungry to return to the Super Bowl.
The Denver offense should put up plenty of points, as it has in recent years, but the defense will look much different.
Free-agent acquisitions DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward will play their first games in Denver in an extended role, and we may get a glimpse of a much more physical Denver defense.
If there has been a team that has had the Broncos' number in recent years, it has been the Colts. Indianapolis has won the last six meetings between the teams. Denver's last win in the series came in January 2005.
We have a closer look at this game, including key matchups and other news to get you ready for the Broncos beginning their defense of the AFC championship.
Broncos Preseason Recap
The Denver Broncos were as impressive as any team in the league over the course of the preseason. They finished 3-1 and outscored their opponents 99-37 in those games. Had it not been for a late two-point conversion by the Houston Texans, they would have gone undefeated.
But we all know wins and losses mean little in the preseason. So how about some meaningful numbers?
The Broncos had a 15-point margin per victory to go along with a plus-three turnover ratio in four games. In addition, the 72.2 yards per game they gave up on the ground was No. 1 in the NFL.
But what the Broncos were truly able to accomplish that will take them in the direction of the Super Bowl this season was the acclimation of some new players to their system.
Part of what attracted Denver to Emmanuel Sanders: His versatility to play all 3 receiver spots. With Welker out, that's big for Denver.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 3, 2014
Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer showed flashes of being well worth the second-round pick the team used on him as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, Marvin Austin surprised many by not only making the team, but being a no-brainer choice by the time roster cuts came around.
DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward all seem like great fits too, and if the Broncos are going to get back to the Super Bowl and win it this year, it will be largely due to the performance of the defense.
All in all, the Broncos looked every bit the well-oiled machine they were last year on offense. The defense looks very much improved and the team is a strong contender for a title once again.
News and Notes
Nathan Palmer Promoted to Active Roster
With the suspension of Wes Welker, a spot opened on the main roster. The Broncos chose to bring up another wide receiver, Nathan Palmer.
Having already secured a spot on the practice squad, Palmer is likely just extra insurance in case the Broncos have another receiver go down to injury. Look for him to be on the inactive list prior to games until Welker comes back.
Palmer had one reception for seven yards in the preseason.
Peyton Manning Says When He Might Retire
Will Peyton Manning ever "suck"? The Denver quarterback recently followed the lead of Tom Brady, who told WEEI radio's Dennis and Callahan Show (h/t USA Today), "When I suck, I will retire," earlier this week.
Jeff Legwold of ESPN brought the subject up with Manning, who seemed to agree with Brady. "Yeah, right until you suck... I think that's a pretty good rule right there."
It is a pretty good rule. But with Manning playing at the level he has been, that could be a while.
Manning may have to judge the end of his career by a different measure, because it's hard to imagine No. 18 ever not playing well.
Vinston Painter Goes to Cleveland
One of the risks you take when assigning players to your practice squad is another team swooping in and helping themselves.
That's exactly what the Cleveland Browns did, taking Vinston Painter off Denver's practice squad and adding him to their active roster.
In Cleveland, Painter will be in a reserve role, but he has a good chance of seeing plenty of action as Cleveland has only seven other offensive linemen on their roster.
The Broncos chose to keep reserve linemen Ben Garland, Will Montgomery and Paul Cornick in favor of Painter when final roster cuts came around.
Painter never saw the field in the regular season for the Broncos as he was in a place where there was just too much talent in front of him. Still, he could have been a solid contributor down the road, though that will be realized elsewhere now.
The Broncos have not made any official rulings as far as injuries go for Sunday's game, but by looking at practice participation, we can get an idea of who may or may not be available.
|Ben Garland||Guard||Did Not Participate in Practice|
|Malik Jackson||Defensive End||Did Not Participate in Practice|
|Danny Trevathan||Linebacker||Did Not Participate in Practice|
|Chris Harris||Cornerback||Full Participant in Practice|
|Terrance Knighton||Defensive Tackle||Full Participant in Practice|
|Louis Vasquez||Guard||Full Participant in Practice|
|Emmanuel Sanders||Wide Receiver||Full Participant in Practice|
|Kayvon Webster||Cornerback||Full Participant in Practice|
|Isaiah Burse||Wide Receiver/Punt Returner||Limited Participant in Practice|
Obviously, the team will be without Danny Trevathan, who will miss the first several games with a leg injury. Ben Garland has been nursing an ankle injury, but he won't be a big factor in the game on Sunday unless someone goes down on the offensive line.
The Broncos look very healthy heading into the game ,and injuries shouldn't be much of a factor for them.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Chris Harris vs. T.Y. Hilton
Sunday night will mark the first game that Chris Harris has played since partially tearing his ACL last year in the divisional round of the playoffs against San Diego.
If he lines up as the nickel corner on passing downs, he could see a lot of Indianapolis wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. After catching 82 passes for 1,083 yards in his second year in the league last year, Hilton's talent is no longer a secret.
In fact, he will likely be Andrew Luck's favorite target this year.
Hilton is a very fast receiver who has a knack for getting behind the secondary. Harris will be charged with shadowing him Sunday night, which will be no easy task.
For Harris to be successful, he needs to get physical with Hilton, slowing him down and throwing him off his route. This will force Luck to turn elsewhere and reduce the chance of big plays in the passing game.
Von Miller vs. Indianapolis Pass Protection
Much like Harris, Von Miller will also be returning to the field after an injury ended his 2013 season. The Colts need to be ready for a man on a mission.
With DeMarcus Ware also on the field, Luck will have plenty to be wary of on Sunday night, but Miller is the guy who could change the complexion of the game.
Expect to see the Colts use a tight end or a fullback to chip in on blocking Miller. No one player for the Colts can handle a healthy Miller by himself.
Miller will need to pick his spots carefully, but he could wreak havoc against the Indianapolis offense in this guy and reassert himself as one of the league's best defensive players.
Demaryius Thomas vs. Vontae Davis
Demaryius Thomas could have the best numbers of any wide receiver in the NFL when the season ends. He needs to get off to a strong start.
Vontae Davis gave him trouble when these two teams met last season, and Thomas was held in check. Sure, looking at the box score it shows Thomas made four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. But what it doesn't show is that the touchdown catch came with Davis on the sideline.
Thomas may have found some openings in that game, but none of them came when matched up on Davis, who will draw Thomas' number again on Sunday.
In the preseason, Peyton Manning and the Denver offense showed a commitment to getting the ball to Thomas early and often. Look for Thomas to get the better of the matchup with Davis this time.
X-Factor Player- Jacob Tamme
Emmanuel Sanders, Andre Caldwell and even Cody Latimer will combine to pick up the slack with Wes Welker out. Indianapolis will be ready for that.
But don't forget about Jacob Tamme.
With the emergence of Julius Thomas, Tamme is often lost in the shuffle. But he is a trusted target of Manning who has good hands and can find the soft spot in the defense.
Tamme won't post huge stats, but if Denver needs a key third down to move the chains, don't be surprised if you see Tamme come up with a clutch play.
This isn't just one of the best games of the week—this is one of the best matchups of the season. But the final score may not indicate that.
Last season, the Colts played a very good game that saw them get pressure on Peyton Manning to force Denver into three turnovers. Still, they had to hold on in the end in order to secure the victory.
Robert Mathis, who had two big sacks of Manning in that game, will miss Sunday's tilt due to a league-imposed suspension. That is a huge loss for the Colts.
Manning and company will want to get the season off to a strong start, using the fuel of their loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl as motivation. They'll also have last year's loss to the Colts fresh on their minds.
With Wes Welker and Matt Prater serving out their suspensions, Denver will show just how complete its team is, despite their absence.
Last season the Colts got the big win and ushered in the Andrew Luck era while saying goodbye to Manning. This year, with Denver having home-field advantage, it will be a much different story.
Prediction: Broncos 38, Colts 20