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Preseason Can Set Tone


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** The significance of preseason results is usually minimal, at best. Yet it in the autopsy of the 2013 season, it was hard to ignore the tone that the Seahawks' first unit set against the Broncos when the teams met in the second week of the preseason: in all three phases, the Seahawks were faster, stronger and more physical. They punched the Broncos in the mouth.

And it led to one unhappy boss.

"John (Elway) pretty much laid it on us," quarterback Peyton Manning said five months later of the speech that the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager laid on the team after it returned to Denver following the 40-10 shellacking. "He was not happy with that game. It was a butt-kicking, and whether it's preseason or regular season, he was just sharing his thoughts that that won't be accepted under his role as kind of the leader of this organization along with (Owner and CEO) Pat Bowlen."

Seattle's speed and intensity would be evident in the Super Bowl XLVIII rematch, which the Broncos would obviously prefer to forget. But it's entirely possible the Broncos wouldn't have won 15 games to get there without the lessons they learned from that August defeat -- and it's possible the Seahawks wouldn't have flourished as they did without establishing their presence before the games counted.

And that's why the first moments of the Broncos' preseason opener against Seattle could be so significant. Since it will be at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Seahawks won't have the advantage of a crowd that was, unfathomably, as loud -- and perhaps louder -- than anything the Broncos encountered in the regular season or playoffs.

It offers a chance for a reconstructed defense to set its own tone for the 2014 season. The arrivals of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware and the expected returns of Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. from injuries promise to make the Broncos faster and more aggressive on defense than the injury-shredded unit that the Broncos had left standing by kickoff last Feb. 2.

And a rematch with the Seahawks is guaranteed, since the teams play in the regular season at CenturyLink Field. The same is true for the Broncos' second preseason opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, which will mark the Broncos' first trip to Levi's Stadium. The 49ers will later come to Sports Authority Field in the regular season for the first time since 2006.

After finding out where they stand against two other Super Bowl contenders, the preseason concludes with a home game against Houston and a trip to AT&T Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys. The Texans were a regular preseason foe of the Broncos in the mid-2000s; they met five times between 2003 and 2008, and preceded two of those games with joint training-camp practices. This will give the Broncos a close look at the Texans' No. 1 overall pick (assuming the Texans keep it).

For just the second time since 2004, the Broncos will not see the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason finale. The relative proximity of the clubs (a 602-mile flight) led to the regular arrangement. But the flight to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is only 39 miles longer than the one to Phoenix.

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