It's Week 9, and the matchup for which people have waited beckons ... again.
In the same season Peyton Manning set an all-time record for touchdown passes, the Broncos play a schedule that could allow them to set a regular-season record for "BIG GAMES!" (And maybe I should abandon my longstanding Jake Jarmel tendencies add a second exclamation point! for superfluous emphasis.) In the 2014 season, this is "BIG GAME!" number seven, according to my abacus.
But this week is special: Manning-Brady XVI. This will be my fourth to witness in person. Despite my evident snark over hype, this one truly is a big deal, a duel for the ages that demands to be cherished. It is the Mackinaw Peach of football rivalries -- "a miracle of nature that exists for a brief period."
Savor it. A chance for two quarterbacks to play this often and build a rivalry this deep may never happen again.
Does DeMarcus Ware make Von Miller better? Or is it Miller that has brought Ware back to his old level?**
-- Phil Miller
It's a little bit of both, but given that Miller is the younger player, the hope was that a veteran leader like Ware would elevate Miller back to his 2012 level -- and perhaps beyond.
"DeMarcus being here has maybe prodded him to greater heights because of the competition," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. "I think also with DeMarcus being here in the offseason and the work they spent -- DeMarcus is kind of like the wise old guy that's done it for quite a while – so you see Von.
"They interact, they exchange ideas, they work some games together, some games apart, and they're thinking about it a lot. They're talking about ball a lot. So I think it's been great from an experience standpoint and then a guy opposite you with that kind of production is also very beneficial."
It hearkens back to 2012, when Miller worked opposite Elvis Dumervil. But Ware is on a sack-a-game pace that would surpass that production. Miller had 18.5 sacks that year, and Dumervil had 11; this year, Miller is on a 20.5-sack pace, and Ware is on track for 16.
But to distill the pass rush to the two edge rushers is to overlook the massive contributions from inside, which I noted in this piece.
"There are guys out there like (Derek) Wolfe and (Terrance) Knighton and Malik (Jackson) and those type of guys that hold the pocket together for us and let us rush the passer," said Ware.
On most plays, one interior rusher draws a double-team. That leaves Miller and Ware in one-on-one matchups on the outside. The inside rushers get a push that forces the quarterback into Ware or Miller, which helps their sack count.
It works, and it wouldn't be the same if you removed any key component.
And apart from the lack of goals, competent defense and cohesion, England was a smashing success at the World Cup Finals!
Mike, of course, gets it. He knows that even in the medium term, the perceived imbalance of venue in this series fades. Including this weekend -- and postseason games -- the series has a perfect venue split of six apiece in the last 12, seven apiece in the last 14, eight apiece in the last 16 and 10 apiece in the last 20 (dating back to 1995).
Yes, the clash Sunday will be the third consecutive regular-season game played between the clubs in Foxborough, and the fourth in the last five.
But the next time they duel in the regular season, it will be at Sports Authority Field. Guaranteed.
It has everything to do with the schedule rotation. At minimum, the Broncos and Patriots play every third season, when the entire AFC West faces the full AFC East in interdivisional play. For this part of the series, the venues alternate, which began with the 2002 realignment:
- 2002: Broncos 24, Patriots 16 (at Foxborough)
- 2005: Broncos 28, Patriots 20 (at Denver)
- 2008: Patriots 41, Broncos 7 (at Foxborough)
- 2011: Patriots 41, Broncos 23 (at Denver)
- 2014: TBD (at Foxborough)
The AFC West faced the entire AFC North in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and does so again next year. It played the AFC North in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and will do so again in 2016.
Since 2002, you face one team from the other two divisions in your conference with which you're not paired for interdivisional round-robin play. Those foes are based on your placement in the division the previous year. That's why the Broncos face the Colts and Bengals this season; both won their divisions in 2013.
Home-field advantage rotates. The AFC West teams host their corresponding AFC South foes and visit their AFC North partners this year. And in the last two years in which the Broncos faced a single AFC East foe, the game was on the road, which explains the 2012 and 2013 trips to New England. But in 2009 and 2010, those solitary AFC East games were at home, against New England and the New York Jets, respectively.
The two-year alternation means that next year and the year after, the Broncos will host whichever AFC East foe finishes in the same divisional ranking as they do.
If the teams continue to match each other's placement -- as they have in six of the last 12 seasons, including second-place finishes in 2002 and 2008 -- then in three years, you might hear a Patriots fans might mutter, "Why do we always go to Denver?" And then perhaps a wiseacre writer on Patriots.com can explain why that is not always the case.
Or he or she can link to this Mailbag.
Can you provide a littke info on WR Douglas McNeil, our newest practice-squad member? He seems rife with potential, but little else is known about him. What are his strong suits, measurables, etc.**
-- Armando Cuesta
I keep up with the Arena Football League, in which he played for the Portland Thudner, so I'm a familiar with him. He's got 4.46 speed, a nice, long stride, lengthy arms and a good catch radius.
You can watch some of his Arena Football League highlights. What jumps out at me, beyond his speed, smooth moves, ability to shed tacklers and his hands, is his concentration and fearless nature: at 28 seconds, watch him go up for the football, knowing he's headed over the wall.
And you can tell he knows how to catch the eye of a scout. On his YouTube channel, he has videos of his Bowie State days. Watch 20 seconds into this clip, where he turns back inside with a shivering block on the safety a doomed run. Of course, he could have blocked the cornerback, but the play would not have turned out any better.
The Broncos have signed Arena League prospects in recent years, including two from the Spokane Shock: former practice-squad wide receiver Greg Orton and defensive end/linebacker Chase Vaughn, who toiled in training camp this summer.
Given the difficulty some players have in re-transitioning to the "big field" from the 50-yard, eight-on-eight variety of the game, patience would be wise with McNeil. But at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he's intriguing. If he could add five to 10 pounds of muscle without sacrificing speed, he could be an intriguing size/speed blend prospect.
Because Gerell Robinson is a Cleveland Brown and Tavarres King is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (on their practice squad).
Submit a question for next week's Mailbag!