We’ve been here before. You look at the potential scenario’s for the Sunday Night Game against the New York Giants and think there’s just about no way that the G-men beat the Denver Broncos.
Reason number one being New York’s struggles passing the ball, especially without Odell Beckham Jr. The feeling was similar two weeks ago when Denver traveled to Upstate New York to play the Buffalo Bills. Things, of course, didn’t go according to plan and on paper, you’d be hard-pressed to say that the Bills had a better defense or quarterback than the winless Giants.
The big difference here is that Denver’s playing in the Mile High City, a major advantage, but the danger remains in this matchup as we’ve seen before. The bigger difference is that the Bills were actually playing well and might be a playoff contender under the tutelage of their new head coach Sean McDermott. The Giants, instead, seem to have quit on their head man Ben McAdoo and have looked nothing like the 11-win squad that we saw last year.
Football’s a funny game, though, and you have to remember these Broncos are far from perfect. If the team’s not prepared, anything could happen Sunday night, below are a few scenarios that must be avoided to ensure the dominant win that fans and bookmakers alike are expecting.
Special teams gives New York the spark
It’s always hard to evaluate special teams, but Football Outsiders does a nice job with their DVOA rankings where the Giants are the 28th "best" team in the league. Nothing to worry about, right? That would be true if the Broncos weren’t ranked 29th in large part due to kicker Brandon McManus missing too many field goals, which could certainly come back to bite Denver. More concerning is the Giants ability to create a few big plays on special teams that kick-start their offense. Their seventh-ranked kickoff return unit certainly could do that.
New York’s main return man in 2017’s been Dwayne Harris who is out injured in this one, making preparing for the G-men’s return game that much harder. Veteran running back Shane Vereen is expected to take Harris' duties in this one, limiting him and pinning the Giants offense back is a must to start things off right.
Struggles in the red zone
After starting off the season very efficiently in the red zone, the Broncos have struggled in the last two contests to put opportunities away in the final 20 yards, converting only 1-of-7 chances.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if that’s your conversion rate, you’re liable to lose to anyone. Especially with McManus’ struggles this season having missed three kicks already and two in the 20-29 yard range. Those are the misses that sting the most because you’re coming out of the red zone with zero points.
Add the offensive red zone struggles to the defensive and you could really have issues. Despite some very solid play this year, the Broncos are conceding a touchdown on 62 percent of red zone opportunities, good for 26th in the NFL. That’ll have to improve against the Giants who are only scoring 16 points per game this season but are 10th in the NFL in average yards per game on offense. Meaning they can move the chains and if they're allowed to have success in the red zone, much like Buffalo was, this won't be a blowout.
Avoiding turnovers under pressure
It’s a given that losing the turnover battle is never good. The Broncos offensive line and quarterback need to be at their best to limit turnover opportunities.
While Trevor Siemian’s played well this year, we saw against the Bills that if he’s down and under duress, he’s not afraid to force a throw. To avoid those situations, the Broncos will need to keep Jason Pierre-Paul contained on the edge.
Beyond simply staying mistake free, playing well in pass protection after the bye week is crucial, especially in keeping Siemian clean and healthy for the rest of the season.
It might seem impossible given how the Giants have played so far to imagine them upsetting the Broncos on Sunday night, but it won’t be so easy. In the NFL, nothing is. If Denver doesn’t clean up some of the glaring issues they’ve shown so far this season and play up to the level we’ve seen in the first three wins, things could get hairy.
We’ve seen it before with the Bills, avoiding a similar fate is essential if the Broncos intend to really threaten the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West crown, making this game as big a hurdle as any in continuing that fight.