ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Week 8 brings another matchup of premiere quarterbacks, as the Broncos host Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints, a playoff team in each of the last three years, come to Denver riding a two-game winning streak after starting off 0-4. The Broncos, meanwhile, will look to build on a stellar second-half performance in Week 6 to piece together back-to-back wins for the first time in 2012.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL:
The Denver offense knows what it's up against. Each time it steps out on the field, on the other sideline sits Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the most efficient scoring attack in the NFL. Throughout the week, the Broncos' offensive players have embraced added responsibility to maintain drives and finish them with points.
"They put up a lot of points, so we'll have to put up points," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "I feel like it's going to be a dog fight with who has the best offense. I'm pretty sure our defense can get stops, but Drew Brees is a great quarterback and he's smart. You know they'll put up points on the board so we have to go out as an offense and try to put together a drive every time we put up points, even if it's just three. Our goal is to get a touchdown, but every time we're on the field we want to get points."
After scoring touchdowns on three of its last four possessions in the second half against San Diego, Thomas believes the offense will continue to build on the rhythm it established. His confidence in his quarterback and his teammates has reached an all-time high.
"You just see (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) do his work, and do all his things, I feel like everything was perfect," Thomas said. "I feel like the sky is the limit. I feel like we'll just build onto that and get better."
While maintaining offensive efficiency from the second half is a goal for Denver, another first-half performance like it had in San Diego could dig Denver in too deep a hole.
"This is not a team that you want to fall that far behind because they have the potential to keep scoring and keep extending that lead," Manning said. "It sure would be nice to try to put together that 60-minute game starting this week."
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL:
Facing a quarterback like Brees, it's unlikely the defense will pitch a shutout. What Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio's unit aims to accomplish on Sunday is play mistake-free and stop the Saints from extending drives on third downs.
"This is one of those teams where you're not going to go in and shut them down," safety Rahim Moore said. "They're going to get their plays. But if we eliminate most of them, then we'll be fine. They're as good as it gets on third down. All we have to do is just challenge all throws and play hard and let the chips fall where they may."
Offensively, New Orleans looks to establish more balance than it has in its first six games. In 2012, the Saints have passed it more than twice as much as they've ran it. They expect that to change on Sunday night, and the defense is honoring it.
"They've got a three-headed monster back there at running back with (Mark) Ingram, (Darren) Sproles and Pierre Thomas," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. "They've got a well-rounded offense, and we've got to come out, and it's another big test for us to come out and prove ourselves on national television."
While Vickerson and the rest of the defensive linemen will respect the run, the biggest challenge in playing the Saints sits directly under center. If Brees is able to continue his recent success - 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his last three games - the Broncos could be in for a long night.
"He's their bread and butter," Moore said. "He's their franchise. He's their best player. We're going to have to really come with it."
KEY TO THE GAME: Building on a Win
The Broncos played perhaps their best half of football of the 2012 season in Week 6 against the Chargers. On Sunday night, Denver will look to carry the momentum from the win through the bye and into Week 8, to string together its first winning streak of the season.
"Build. That's my mindset, is building on the last game," Vickerson said. "It was a good victory. We're trying to get a streak started ourselves and build on that game."
The Broncos and Saints have faced off in the regular season nine times, with Denver taking seven of those contests. At home, the Broncos have won four of five, their only loss coming in a 30-28 battle in 1994. Since that game, the Broncos have won the next three contests, two in New Orleans and one at home. Most recently, the Broncos won a close one in Denver in 2008, 34-32.
Both teams rank in the top-10 in the league in yards per game, yards per play, and points per game. The Saints rank inside the top five in all three of those offensive categories.
Both offenses are also very solid on third down. The Broncos convert on 45.3 percent of third down opportunities, tied for fourth-best in the league, while the Saints are the second-best third-down offense, converting 48.2 percent of the time.
The New Orleans defense is surrendering the most yards per game (465.5) and per play (6.6) in 2012.
The Broncos are 29th in the league in third-down defense, allowing their opponent to convert on 45.6 percent of their third-downs.
Safety Mike Adams needs one pass defensed to set a single-season career high.
Cornerback Champ Bailey needs one interception to tie Mike Harden (33) for the fifth-most in franchise history.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil, with four forced fumbles on the year, is one shy of taking the NFL lead and setting a career high in that category.
Quarterback Peyton Manning needs one game-winning scoring drive to pass Dan Marino (47) for most all-time.
Running back Willis McGahee needs one rushing touchdown to tie Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville for the second-most among active players.
BACK TO THE BAYOU
Cornerback Tracy Porter and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio have each spent time with the Saints. Porter played the previous four seasons in New Orleans, while Del Rio spent two years (1997-98) on the coaching staff.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley hails from Lafayette, La., the same hometown as Saints wideout Devery Henderson. Stokley played his college ball at Southwestern Louisiana.
The game will air nationally on NBC, with Al Michaels (play-by-play), and Cris Collinsworth (color commentary) calling the game and Michele Tafoya reporting from the sidelines.
Locally, KOA Radio (850 AM) will feature Dave Logan (play-by-play) and Ed McCaffrey (color commentary) with Andy Lindahl reporting from the sidelines.