(SportsNetwork.com) - Gentlemen, start your survivor pools.
When the unbeaten Denver Broncos host the winless Jacksonville Jaguars this
weekend in Colorado, it'll be more than just a matchup of a pair of early
While the Broncos have approached historic league levels of elite play through
a 5-0 start, the Jaguars have been forced to read commentary in which they've
been compared to all-time lowly squads, including their own 4-12 expansion
version from 1995.
The contrast prompted odds-makers to install Denver as a 28-point favorite, a
number that ties the recognized mark for highest spread -- initially reached
when the Baltimore Colts were a four-touchdown pick to defeat Atlanta in 1966.
The Falcons covered, and no game since the merger in 1970 has featured so high
But there are plenty of numbers in 2013 to warrant the gap.
Denver is first in the league in scoring offense, averaging 46 points per game
and coming off a 51-point effort last week at Dallas. Jacksonville is second-
to-last in scoring defense, has allowed 32.6 points per game and has kept only
one foe -- Oakland in Week 2 -- below 28 points.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have scored only 51 points in five weeks, including
three games in single digits.
The Broncos' average of 489.8 total yards per week is also first in the
league, while Jacksonville's per-week clip of 379.8 yards allowed per game is
22nd-best among 32 teams.
Oh, and Denver has won 16 consecutive regular-season games, while the Jaguars
have dropped 10 straight, 19 of their last 21 over two seasons and haven't won
two in a row since weeks 13 and 14 of 2010.
After winning their first four games by margins of 22, 18, 16 and 32 points,
the Broncos were forced to compete for four quarters last week in Dallas and
finally won, 51-48, when Matt Prater hit on a 28-yard field goal as time
"We don't go into each game trying to see how close we can make it," coach
John Fox said. "If you fall asleep at the wheel, you wreck. Sometimes dealing
with prosperity is more difficult than the adversity. Our guys understand
that. They understand it's more about the process than the results. They
understand it's more about the preparation work which will relate to the
Quarterback Peyton Manning was 33-of-42 against the Cowboys and finished with
414 yards and four TDs. He leads the league with 20 scoring passes and threw
just his first interception of the season.
The Broncos did look vulnerable on defense, where Dallas QB Tony Romo was able
to exploit them for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
Denver is last in the league against the pass with opponents averaging 347
yards per game and 29th in total yardage defense at 416.6 per week.
Defensive back Champ Bailey hasn't played after injuring his left foot in the
preseason, but he's been upgraded to questionable this week and could return.
Meanwhile, linebacker Von Miller will sit out the sixth and final game of a
suspension connected to the league's substance-abuse policy.
"No team is invincible," Denver safety Rahim Moore said. "It's the NFL. It's
hard to win in this league."
Jacksonville will once again start Chad Henne at quarterback in place of
anointed No. 1 Blaine Gabbert, who's been riddled by injuries for the last two
seasons. Gabbert completed 9-of-19 passes, including a 67-yard scoring strike
to Justin Blackmon, before leaving a loss to St. Louis last week with a
Henne, who'll make his third start of 2013, completed 7-of-13 attempts in the
relief role and has connected on 53-of-95 throws for the season, compiling 601
yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
Gabbert is last in the league with a 36.0 passer rating and is 5-22 in his
career as a starter. Henne was 13-18 in three years of starts with the Miami
Dolphins and was 1-5 as a starter for an injured Gabbert last season.
"With (playing quarterback) comes the responsibility of being a leader,"
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "Our guys are working toward that, but they
need to step it up. We feel strongly about both of them, we're going to
challenge both of them and they're going to need to step up."
Blackmon's TD from Gabbert was his first of the season after a four-game
suspension to begin the year. He caught five balls for 136 yards and can give
Henne a second viable option beyond Cecil Shorts, who has 31 catches for 411
yards through five games.
On the ground, Jacksonville is 30th of 32 teams with an anemic 58.8-yard
average per game. Veteran Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging just 2.8 yards per
carry. And the offensive line took a hit when left tackle Luke Joeckel broke
his ankle against the Rams.
Denver is tops in the league against the run, allowing 69.6 yards per game on
21.2 carries per week, which is second-lowest in the NFL. The more the Jaguars
can hold onto the ball against whatever shortcomings the Broncos' defense has,
the less time they'll spend contending with Manning.
"He's the best that I've ever encountered," said Bradley, an assistant in
Seattle for four seasons before taking the Jacksonville job. "How he manages
the game, it appears like he never puts the team into a bad call. He knows
everything about you on defense. He studies. He controls the whole offense.
He's very talented."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Any measure of success the Jaguars have had on offense this season has gone
through Shorts, or his recently returned colleague, Blackmon. Having both of
them together for the second time this season can't help by help Henne, who's
not been able to get much from a running game.
The Broncos could have both starting cornerbacks, Bailey and Dominique
Rodgers-Cromartie, playing together for the first time in 2013, which also
helps what's been one of the league's leakiest pass defenses through five
As for the Broncos' offense, well, good luck Jacksonville. Manning has played
the best football of his career through the first five games, which is saying
a lot considering the success he's had since 1998. But seriously, a Jaguars
defense that has surrendered more than 400 total yards this season to
youngsters Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson seems impossibly overmatched with
Manning and his band of scoreboard-torchers.
It really doesn't seem fair, right? You get the feeling in Manning wanted to
score 100 points this weekend, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to think he
Of course he won't, and he'll more likely be on the bench in the third
quarter, but it'll probably look pretty ugly as long as it lasts. A moral
victory for Jacksonville? It says here Denver won't cover the spread.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 42, Jaguars 19
The Sports Network