NFL THIS WEEK: Broncos are huge favorites over winless Jags
Some have dubbed it the point-spread game, given that Denver is favored by more than four touchdowns against Jacksonville today.
Others are calling it the biggest mismatch in NFL history.
Still others expect Peyton Manning to sit out the second half, his requisite four touchdown passes already in the books.
What no one is projecting is the Jaguars’ first victory after five lopsided defeats, nor the Broncos’ first loss following a record-setting opening five weeks.
“We have never talked about that and so it’s completely irrelevant to me,” Manning said. “I don’t look at anything besides what I see on the tape. On defense I see a team that’s stingy in the red zone. I’ve seen some offenses that have made some really good plays against them, that have been hard to defend, and certainly it’s a team with a lot of pride. It’s about what are you doing each week.”
JACKSONVILLE (0-5) AT DENVER (5-0): While the point spread has fluctuated in the vicinity of 27 points, the Jaguars have been ridiculed nearly everywhere. That includes on the Broncos’ Twitter account, which noted that Denver scored 51 points in beating Dallas last Sunday, the same number of points Jacksonville has managed all year.
“My whole life I’ve been an underdog, so it doesn’t change anything,” said Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the few Jacksonville players who could make Denver’s roster.
“When things aren’t going well you try to find challenges throughout, and obviously the Broncos are No. 1 in rush defense, so that’s a big challenge for us.”
Not to mention slowing down an offense averaging 46 points a game.
“Obviously, facing an offense that’s playing at the highest level of anybody in the league, but we try not to get too caught up on that,” first-year coach Gus Bradley said.
“It’s more about what we need to do and what we can get accomplished.”
The Broncos can accomplish a 17-game regular-season winning streak dating to last Oct. 15.
OAKLAND (2-3) AT KANSAS CITY (5-0): This once was the bitterest rivalry in the NFL, but now far less hostile because, in general, both teams have struggled for nearly a decade.
Andy Reid has turned things around so quickly in KC — remember, the Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012 and the first team to go 5-0 the next year— that some folks see the Chiefs hanging with the Broncos all season in the AFC West.
Oakland comes off its most impressive win since Dennis Allen became coach at the beginning of last season, 27-17 over San Diego.
NEW ORLEANS (5-0) AT NEW ENGLAND (4-1): As juicy a quarterback matchup as you can find. Well, it would be if Tom Brady had anywhere near the complement of players Drew Brees has on offense. At least Brady might get back outstanding tight end Rob Gronkowski from myriad injuries and surgeries.
“I just want us to score points, so whatever it takes to score points, that’s what matters,” said Brady, whose Patriots managed only six in last week’s loss at Cincinnati. “I think you let your emotions get into it and feelings and so forth — I mean realistically, you have to come up with a plan we have to figure out to score points.”
New Orleans has had no such issues. Brees has Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and a pretty fair tight end, too, in Jimmy Graham. He also, for the first time in a long while, has a solid defense on his side.
WASHINGTON (1-3) AT DALLAS (2-3): One thing the Cowboys absolutely must do is put behind the pain of last weekend’s loss to Denver. Should the offense perform in the same manner, particularly the line and QB Tony Romo, Dallas will have too much for Washington to handle. But that is a huge if.
Like the rest of the NFC East, neither team has a decent defense. The rested Redskins need Robert Griffin III to approach his top offensive rookie form of 2016 and to get versatile running back Alfred Morris more room to roam.
“We’ve got a sense of pride in this group,” Dallas defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said.
“I know I’m hurting because I’m part of this defense. One thing we’ve got to do, we’ve got to clean it up. We got another good quarterback coming in here.”
PHILADELPHIA (2-3) AT TAMPA BAY (0-4): Here’s a weird one: The Buccaneers know who their quarterback will be, rookie Mike Glennon, and the Eagles can’t be sure, what with Mike Vick nursing a pulled hamstring.
Tampa had a week off to stew over its agonizing start and the Josh Freeman saga. If the Bucs don’t show a finishing touch soon, the end of Greg Schiano’s short tenure as coach could be the result.
TENNESSEE (3-2) AT SEATTLE (4-1): The Seahawks finish their trip through the AFC South, having beaten Houston and Jacksonville and lost to Indianapolis in the last three weeks.
The 34-28 defeat at Indy was only Seattle’s second in the regular season since last October.
No place in the NFL is tougher to visit than Seattle, but the Titans played well on the road before winning two of three at home. Of course, they now have backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in for injured starter Jake Locker.
ARIZONA (3-2) AT SAN FRANCISCO (3-2): Two pretty solid defenses hook up, and a Cardinals win will stamp them as a contender in the NFC West.
They’ve allowed 16 points in the last two weeks, but that was against Tampa Bay and Carolina. The Niners, who seemed to straighten out their offense in a win over the Rams and have been off since that Thursday night game, are a much bigger challenge.
The 49ers play four of their next five on the road, so winning here, particularly against a division foe, is paramount.
“NFC West games are NFC West games. There is a rivalry to it,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said.
“There is nastiness to this division, especially defensively.”
ST. LOUIS (2-3) AT HOUSTON (2-3): Turmoil in Texas, with Houston among the league’s biggest disappointments.
Now, tight end Owen Daniels is gone with a broken leg, although he could return later in the schedule. That won’t make reviving Matt Schaub’s career any easier.
The Rams will be salivating at the thought of getting yet another pick-6 off Schaub. They also ought to be figuring out where to find a running game and how to stop the run.
“Matt is an excellent quarterback. He’s won a lot of games,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
“I’ve personally faced him many, many times and know what he’s capable of doing. So we’re going to have our hands full with their offense, which not only includes Matt’s arm, but includes an excellent running game.”
CAROLINA (1-3) AT MINNESOTA (1-3): Last time we saw the Vikings, they were across the pond in Wembley, whipping the Steelers.
If they are to make any kind of a run in the NFC North, they need 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson to be a game changer once more. He was that in London.
Carolina looked great in its 38-0 demolition of the Giants, then gave up seven sacks and turned it over four times in a 22-6 loss at Arizona. Coach Ron Rivera is asking for some consistency.
INDIANAPOLIS (4-1) AT SAN DIEGO (2-3): The mantra throughout the NFL is that teams never look beyond the current week.
The Colts can prove that true beyond doubt with a strong performance against the Chargers, because Indy’s next game is Manning’s return to Lucas Oil Stadium.
San Diego seemed to be on the right track before getting derailed at Oakland. The Chargers can’t stop the pass, but can throw the ball with anyone.
Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano is the brother of Colts coach Chuck Pagano.