By Max Luckan
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Denver this Sunday to take on the Denver Broncos, who have won six games in a row and are starting to look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Of course, the Broncos are led by quarterback Peyton Manning, whose looked just like his old self this season and continues to get more comfortable as the season progresses. Many aren’t giving the Bucs a chance in this game because it’s on the road, and because they’re coming off a crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Accurate as that may be, the Bucs will have to play their best football of the season against the Broncos, who have an extraordinary amount of weapons on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos will come into Sunday’s matchup having won six in a row and with an 8-3 record, which makes them the fourth best team in the AFC. They have impressive wins against the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints, but other than that, haven’t beaten many good teams.
Two wins against the San Diego Chargers, a win over the Carolina Panthers, and a win over the Kansas City Chiefs are some of the rather unimpressive victories this year for the Broncos, and they outnumber the impressive ones by far.
While the Broncos haven’t played many tough teams, their record of 8-3 speaks for itself.
Broncos on Offense
Peyton Manning has an arsenal of weapons that includes wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, running back Ronnie Hillman, who has played extremely well recently, and tight end Joel Dreessen.
Manning likes to get all of his receivers involved and spreads the ball around well. The Broncos also like to play an up-tempo style on offense, often going with the no-huddle to tire and confuse opposing teams. Stopping Manning is difficult enough, but becomes even more of a challenge when he goes no-huddle.
In the Broncos’ backfield, it’s currently running back-by-committee, but that seems to have worked so far, although the running game isn’t the strongest aspect of the offense.
Broncos on Defense
While many teams focus on the Broncos’ offense, the Bucs certainly won’t be able to forget about the defense, which features players like Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and of course, veteran cornerback Champ Bailey. Miller has 14 sacks so far this season and is on pace to finish with 20.
The defense is ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories and does many things well, so there aren’t any glaring weaknesses. The red zone defense can be a bit shaky at times, but is still fairly solid.
“It’s the best defense we’ve played all year,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said.
Slowing down the Broncos’ defense will be a huge challenge for an injury-riddled Bucs’ offensive line.
Broncos Players to Watch
Von Miller: Start with the obvious. Miller has 14 sacks and 24 tackles for loss this season, and can play multiple positions. In order to protect quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs will have to contain Miller.
Champ Bailey: Bailey only has one interception this year, but he’s a veteran and knows how to cover and read quarterbacks. Of course, the Bucs have to limit turnovers, so dealing with Bailey is a priority.
Peyton Manning: Well, this is rather obvious as well, but Manning is one of the best to play the quarterback position, and is not easily fooled. The Bucs aren’t going to stop Manning, but they could slow him down or make him a little uneasy with some pressure.
The Bucs are 2-5 all-time against the Broncos, but are 3-0 against AFC teams this season. Greg Schiano will face off against Broncos head coach John Fox for the first time, in what should be an intriguing game.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.