A funny thing happened on the way to this epic meeting of QB greats past and present: their team’s defenses have eclipsed them and have become the real storyline of this rare meeting of 6-0 teams Sunday night in Denver. One has seen his arsenal stripped; the other has seen his arm strength sapped.
But still everyone will be talking about just the second (and likely final) meeting between Rodgers and Manning, two guys who in middle age will be yukking it up in Canton every August as a new class of yellow jackets is enshrined.
Both will need to be razor sharp to fend off the other’s ferocious defense. As you probably know, this game features the two teams giving up the fewest points, generating the most sacks and taking the ball away in bunches. Denver has 22 takeaways while the Pack has 15, but both teams are plus six in the takeaway column, thanks to Peyton’s league leading ten picks (more on that in a bit).
We’ll have a good idea of what’s in store on Sunday night at around 8:15, when the first quarter comes to an end. The Pack has been the fastest starting team in the league this season, with 66 points in the opening quarter. Conversely, the Broncos have yet to allow a single first quarter point (while scoring just 12 of their own). A fast start by Green Bay in a tough environment would go a long way in securing a tough road win.
We’ll see how beneficial the bye week was to the banged up offense, which should welcome back a healthy Davante Adams and Eddie Lacy (while losing Ty Montgomery, who hasn’t practiced this week. James Starks’ availability is also in question as he nurses a hip injury). Mike McCarthy is usually good for some new looks coming out of the bye and I would expect that to continue against the league’s best defense.
Boasting maybe the best set of outside linebackers and corners, Denver will feel good about making Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket and being able to cover Cobb, Adams and Jones. Lacy will need to be ready to take a pounding and keep them honest–I’m a little concerned about how his asthma handles the thin air at (Sports Authority Field at) Mile High.
This is unchartered territory for Peyton and the Broncos. Manning has not been a home underdog since 2008 and his team does not lose at home when leading at halftime. But this is not your older brother’s Peyton Manning. His game has dropped precipitously and has relied on his defense to pull out games late–they’ve come from behind in nearly all of their wins.
The problems may begin with Peyton’s arm and neck, but they continue with an offensive line that has been marginal at best, unable to create lanes in the running game and unable to handle blitzes and strong pass rushers to protect their aged stud. They’re likely to get back Ty Sambrailo, their left tackle (who replaced the injured Ryan Clady)–he’s missed the last three games with a shoulder injury. But they struggle up the middle and you have to like Dom Capers’ chances, especially getting three starters back in Raji, Perry and Burnett.
They still have an electric pair of receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas has been dealing with the dropsies, but after seeing the success Keenan Allen had against the Pack is likely licking his chops at a little salvation. Sanders hurt his shoulder in his last game, but appears good to go and is a reliable third down and red zone target for Manning.
Mike McCarthy is 8-1 coming off the bye and he has a healthier team than he’s had in recent weeks. They’ll need everybody to win on what will be an emotional night in Denver, when Broncos owner (and Prairie du Chien native) Pat Bowlen is inducted into their Ring of Fame. The architect of the franchise, Bowlen have up his owner duties earlier this year when it was announced he’s dealing with Alzheimer’s.
The Broncos have feasted on turnovers and the Packers are pretty good at taking care of the ball. I see both teams having a tough time scoring points as the defenses take center stage. Most NFL experts, when analyzing the five NFL unbeatens, rank the Packers second behind the Pats and the Broncos last. Both teams have beaten up on lousy teams, with Denver’s best win a home escape over the Vikings. The Pack counter with home wins over Seattle and St. Louis. Both teams’ schedules get a lot tougher now, so we’ll know much more about them in the coming month.
The difference in this one ultimately will come down to the QBs, just as the networks are billing it. Which one can handle the pass rush, take care of the football and make a play that turns the game? I’ll take our guy.
Packers 20 Broncos 16
Reminder: Sunday night is our 20th Anniversary “Packer Preview” party at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park. Gonna be a great night to watch the big game together, with lots of prizes and the usual drink and food specials. Head past the bowling alley, to the 11th Frame bar. That’s our home away from Lambeau.
And as usual, much more on this game coming up Sunday morning at 7am. “Packer Preview” airs on KFAN, iheartradio.com and is available on iTunes shortly after 8am each Sunday.