ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' road wins in Weeks 1 and 2 have put them in an enviable position as prepare to host the New York Jets.
They are one of two undefeated teams in the AFC, and they have an edge on the Chiefs in the AFC West standings for the first time since midway through the 2016 season.
But while road wins can help pad a resume and a record, NFL teams must deliver at home to earn a playoff bid. And with nine home games still remaining, the Broncos have the opportunity to make the most of their home-field advantage.
"We have to go win at home," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday. "It's as simple as that. These fan bases are very, very enthusiastic. I've been in some of the best fan bases — Chicago, San Francisco. I grew up in the Philadelphia area. These guys are right there with them, if not better, as fans, I think. They love the Broncos, and we have to give them what they're hungry for."
In the Jets, the Broncos will face an 0-2 opponent with a struggling offense; New York ranks 31st in points per game, 30th in turnovers and 26th in total yards. And yet, despite being heavy favorites, the Broncos know they cannot overlook their opponent.
"Honestly, man, you've just got to always respect the game," Teddy Bridgewater said Wednesday. "Respect the game and respect your opponent. There's no such thing as overlooking an opponent because that team, they work extremely hard the same way we do and they've been playing some good football — a few breaks away from winning certain games and things like. But for us, we just have to focus on us, control us. My mentor, he texted me Sunday after the game, and he was like, 'Man, don't take the cheese. It's poison. It's rat poison.' Those constant reminders to stay grounded, respect the game and continue to work hard because there's always room for improvement. If you watch us, there's definitely room for improvement. As long as we focus on us, make it about us and just control the things that we can control, we should be able to go out on Sunday and play our best."
The Broncos' offense has plenty of room to improve on third down and in the red zone, where the team ranks 23rd in each category. Against a Jets defense that ranks third in third-down defense and second in red-zone defense, Bridgewater and Denver's 13th-ranked scoring offense should be tested.
The Denver defense may have a decidedly bigger edge.
Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson threw four interceptions a week ago against the Patriots as he completed just 19-of-33 passes and was sacked four times. Safety Justin Simmons doesn't want to let up against the young player.
"The mentality for us is we don't want to be the team that gets him out of his slump," Simmons said Wednesday. "We kind of want to make sure that whatever team they're playing the next week, they [reference] the game he had the week before the game against Denver, and it's our turn to take advantage of that. Defensively for us, it's the same mentality every week, though. We're just excited to go out there and compete. … The biggest thing for us is we want to make sure we're asserting dominance. We're back on our home field. The crowd is going to be there. It's going to be electric, and we want to definitely give our fans a show on Sunday."
The Broncos have said all the right things so far this week, and that's encouraging in light of Denver's last experience as heavy favorites. In 2017, the Broncos hosted a heavy underdog in the 0-5 New York Giants on "Monday Night Football." The Giants, without three starters including Odell Beckham Jr., stunned the Broncos in a 23-10 upset. In the loss, the Broncos missed a field goal and turned the ball over twice in the first half to fall behind by two touchdowns at the break.
That early misfortune only emphasizes the need to play to their potential against Wilson and Co. If the defense plays like the 2015 version did when it harassed Bridgewater and the Vikings' offense all afternoon, the unit should find plenty of success.
"I remember getting sacked seven times," Bridgewater said of his lone start in Denver. "It was loud, third downs you just had to buckle down and try to block out the noise. I'm excited that we get this opportunity to play at home this weekend. Hopefully, we can make the Jets feel what I felt in 2015."
But as Bridgewater, Simmons, Fangio and the Broncos know, there are no easy wins in the NFL.
"This is just our third game," Fangio said. "It's the next game. Favorites or lines don't mean anything to us. This is the NFL. I don't know [Jaguars head coach] Urban Meyer at all, really. I met him the other day and shook his hand before the game and after the game. His comment to me was, 'Every week it's like playing Alabama in the NFL.' That's it. Everybody is capable of beating everybody in this league."
Without Josey Jewell and Bradley Chubb in the lineup, the Broncos' linebacking corps could face some trickle-down effects. The Broncos figure to start Justin Strnad in Jewell's place, but the players behind Strnad and Alexander Johnson could shift.
Third-round pick Baron Browning is currently the next inside linebacker available, but that could change if Micah Kiser — whom the Broncos signed off the Rams' practice squad — is ready to play soon. If Kiser is able to contribute, the Broncos may shift Browning over to outside linebacker to help assuage the loss of Chubb for the next six to eight weeks.
"We've talked about it," Fangio said. "That's a possibility. Maybe not quite this week because we have to see how much we can get out of Micah — if we can get him active and honed up enough. If we can't, then Baron is next in at ILB."
Browning played both inside and outside linebacker at Ohio State, though he's worked exclusively at inside linebacker since returning to the field late in training camp.
Kiser could be ready sooner rather than later, as he played under Brandon Staley in Los Angeles last year. Now the Chargers' head coach, Staley uses a version of Fangio's defense that he picked up while working on Fangio's Chicago and Denver staffs.
"There should be a quick carry-over in learning form," Fangio said of Kiser.
And despite the loss of two defensive starters — and a third in Ronald Darby who remains on IR — Fangio still believes in his unit.
"We played most of that game Sunday without them, and without Darby," Fangio said. "A good bit of Sunday's game was with without three starters and all really good players. We won that game, and we'll continue to win. We have good players backing them up and we feel confident."