The Denver Broncos are a good example of why preseason record predictions should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Expectations heading into 2017 for the Broncos weren’t overly optimistic. On cbssports.com, for example, six experts picked their record before the year. Four of them had Denver finishing 8-8, one had them going 7-9 and one picked 10-6. After a 2-0 start that includes a dominant Week Two beat down of the Dallas Cowboys, those predictions might want to be revisited.
Here is how the Bills and Broncos match up:
When the Bills run: LeSean McCoy is coming off arguably the worst game of his career, but shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for the running game’s struggles in Week Two. Far too often, there wasn’t anywhere for him to go. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bills gained zero – zip, zilch, nada -- rushing yards before first contact against the Panthers, the fewest since that stat started being tracked in 2006. That shows that the offensive line wasn’t doing its part, either. It figures to be a tough go again against a Denver defense that shut down the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott in Week Two. At one point in the third quarter, Elliott had zero yards on five carries. The Broncos are allowing just 52 rushing yards per game, third in the NFL. EDGE: Even.
When the Bills pass: If it feels like the team isn’t taking chances in the passing game, that’s because it’s not. According to NFL.com’s “Next Gen” stats, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is throwing to a receiver where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the intended target just 17 percent of the time – a stat it calls aggressiveness. That ranks third from the bottom in the NFL. Don’t expect that to change much Sunday, because the Broncos’ starting cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, are two of the best in the game. “They’ve got great DBs. They all have great ball skills,” Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. “Put the ball around them, they think it’s theirs, so you’ve got to be careful.” EDGE: Broncos.
When the Broncos run: Denver has the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack through the first two weeks, averaging 159 yards per game. C.J. Anderson leads the way, ranking second in the league with 199 yards. Coach Vance Joseph believes Anderson is a “bell cow” back, and so far, he’s been right. Anderson is a highly efficient runner who gets north and south in a hurry. Veteran Jamaal Charles, the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing average, isn’t the player he once was, but has still shown some burst in relief of Anderson. Buffalo’s run defense backed up a solid start against the Jets with another good performance against Carolina. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier particularly likes the job defensive end Shaq Lawson has done against the run. EDGE: Broncos.
When the Broncos pass: Trevor Siemian isn’t going to sell many jerseys outside Denver, but there’s no ignoring the start he’s off to in 2017. He threw four touchdown passes last week against Dallas, picking the Cowboys apart on intermediate routes. All but one of his 22 completions came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, while just two incompletions (out of 10) came in that area. No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas has 138 yards in two games, while Emmanuel Sanders has nine catches. One area of concern for Denver will be their offensive line. Rookie left tackle Garett Bolles isn’t expected to play because of an ankle injury, while right tackle Menelik Watson has already given up six sacks this season. That’s good news for the Bills’ pass rush, which terrorized Cam Newton in Week Two. EDGE: Even.
Special teams: It’s a battle of struggling kickers, as Denver’s Brandon McManus has missed two straight field goals, while Buffalo’s Stephen Hauschka merely almost has – he banked in his attempt against Carolina. Not surprisingly, the Broncos’ coverage units enjoy a big advantage because of the elevation in their home stadium. which makes kicking touchbacks a breeze. Broncos punt returner Isaiah McKenzie has had a 25-yard return or longer in the first two games. EDGE: Broncos.
Coaching: Sean McDermott got a chuckle when asked whether his honeymoon was over, but it is. He made questionable decisions in regards to time management and the lineup (benching Brandon Tate didn’t work out). Joseph is in his first year with the Broncos, and will face his first road game in what can be a hostile stadium. Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison knows the Broncos' personnel well after serving in the same job last year with Denver, but that knowledge applies on both sides. EDGE: Even.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Bills 20.