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2020 vision: Looking ahead to Denver's Week 12 matchup vs. the Saints

Photos from throughout the Broncos' history with the Saints.

The Broncos' regular-season opener isn't for another few months, but over the next few weeks, DenverBroncos.com will take an early look at each game on the Broncos' 2020 schedule. We don't know how injuries could impact each contest, but we'll present the pressing storylines, matchups, questions and more.

It's never too early to start talking football.

We continue with Denver's Week 12 game against the New Orleans Saints.

Storyline to monitor:

For the first time since he was traded to San Francisco in 2019, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will return to Empower Field at Mile High. After signing with the Broncos in 2014 as a free agent, Sanders posted 5,361 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns during his six-plus seasons in Denver. A two-time Pro Bowler, Sanders provided a dynamic element to the Broncos' offense. In Week 12, he'll return with hopes of winding up in the end zone again. This time, though, he'll be paired with quarterback Drew Brees, 2019 Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. Sanders, while not the Saints' top option, still bears monitoring. He still possesses the toughness, route-running ability and speed to make an impact. Now No. 17 with the Saints, the former Bronco will pose a challenge for Denver's new-look secondary.

The question mark:

Are the Broncos ready to defend Taysom Hill?

The Saints' all-purpose player is listed as a quarterback, but he lines up all over the field for New Orleans. He can throw the ball, block as a fullback, catch passes and even return kicks. And while Hill has shared his ultimate goal is to be a starting quarterback, he currently is a player that can hurt opponents in a variety of different capacities if they're not aware of where he is on the field. In the Saints' playoff loss to the Vikings last January, Hill posted the 13th game in NFL history where a player rushed and threw for 50 yards and also had 25 yards receiving. He finished the game with four carries for 50 yards, two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown and one completion for 50 yards.  

The Broncos must be ready to gang tackle a physical player whose role can change from play to play. More importantly, the Broncos' defense must be sound in its assignments. Against a team as talented as the Saints, Denver cannot afford to give up first downs or scores when New Orleans runs its gadget plays.

Player to watch:

WR Michael Thomas

Let's say the Broncos find a way to slow Sanders and don't give up chunk plays when unconventional QB Taysom Hill is on the field. That's only half the battle. Denver's defense still has to deal with Thomas, who has led the NFL in receptions in each of the last two seasons. Last year, Thomas caught 149 passes for 1,725 yards and set the NFL's single-season reception record. The two-time first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler has found the end zone 18 times over the past two years and caught 173 passes for first downs over that time frame. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver is strong enough to make catches over the middle, shows excellent body control along the sideline, is a yards-after-catch machine and has tremendous hands. His 80.5 percent catch rate in 2019 led all NFL receivers with at least 50 receptions. It's no stretch to say Thomas will be the best skill player the Broncos see all season.

The last meeting:

The Broncos last played the Saints in 2016, when they traveled to New Orleans and escaped with a 25-23 win to improve to 7-3. Denver led 23-17 with 2:50 to play in a back-and-forth game when Brees led the Saints on a six-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game at 23. It appeared the Saints would take a one-point lead with 1:22 to play, but rookie Justin Simmons changed the game with perhaps the most impressive play of his young career. Simmons timed the snap on the extra point, hurdled the line of scrimmage and blocked the extra-point attempt. Fellow rookie Will Parks scooped up the ball and took off down the left sideline toward the end zone. Parks nearly stepped out of bounds as his white shoe sidled up against the edge of the white sideline. A review of the two-point play, though, did not find conclusive evidence that Parks stepped out, and the Broncos' 25-23 lead stood. After recovering an onside kick, the Broncos kneeled out the clock.

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