st people might have correctly predicted that the Denver Broncos would be undefeated after three games. But few could have anticipated it would be because of a dominant, suffocating defense — and not a prolific, Peyton Manning-led offense — that has led the way. The experts agree that this defense could be the engine that fuels another double-digit win season for the Broncos, and are picking Denver to improve to 4-0 with a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
It turns out that reports of Manning’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, at least for now. The future Hall of Famer silenced his critics with a solid performance in Week 3, carving up the Lions‘ secondary with 324 yards on 31-of-42 passing and two touchdowns.
It was clear that the Broncos tweaked their offensive game plan to put Manning in his comfort zone in the pocket. Per ESPN Stats & Information, he took just four snaps under center and 29 snaps from the pistol formation in Week 3; those totals were 55 and one, respectively, in the first two weeks combined. Although those changes didn’t necessarily result in more points than the previous games, the offense looked more efficient and dynamic.
Despite the improvements on offense, it is the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense that will carry this team to the playoffs. Denver is allowing the fewest total yards per game, passing yards per game and yards per play, and has the league’s best third-down conversion defense. They are the consensus top defensive unit according to the advanced metrics, too, leading the way in Pro Football Focus‘ grades and Football Outsiders‘ efficiency rankings.
Although the Vikings are underdogs in this game, they aren’t lacking for confidence following back-to-back convincing wins over the Chargers and Lions. After a deflating 20-3 loss in Week 1, it looks like the Vikings have figured out their recipe to success for this season: get the ball to Adrian Peterson, then watch him run through and over defenders. Rinse, repeat.
Peterson is leading the league in rushing and has rightfully declared himself “back”after a vintage performance last Sunday. He faces his biggest challenge of the season this week against the aforementioned Broncos defense, which has given up a paltry 248 rushing yards combined in its first three games.
The experts, however, aren’t convinced that Peterson is going to find any running room in Denver and most are picking the Broncos to roll in this matchup. Seven of the eight fellas at CBS Sports have the Broncos (good luck, Jason La Confora!) and nearly the entire ESPN panel is also picking Denver.
Our crew here at SB Nation is similarly favoring the Broncos, with only Ryan Van Bibber and PFT Commenter predicting an upset by the Vikings.
|Ryan Van Bibber||Stephen White||Joel Thorman||David Fucillo||Danny Kelly||Matt Ufford||PFT Commenter||OddsShark Computer|
|MIN @ DEN||MIN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN||MIN||DEN|