DENVER --** No matter what publication you read, web site you visit or broadcast you absorb, it's been nearly impossible to avoid the words "point spread" when the undefeated Broncos' clash with the winless Jacksonville Jaguars is referenced.
That's understandable when the spread is the most bulbous since people began keeping track of these things, and when the last comparable projected margin was in 1976. That game featured arguably the greatest defense in league history -- a Steelers unit that was in the midst of allowing 22 points in eight games -- hosting perhaps the worst NFL team ever assembled, an expansion Tampa Bay club 12 weeks into a 26-game losing streak.
Some want to put the Broncos' offense into similar, exceptional territory. It's certainly been dominant in a way few offenses have ever been. But that's a discussion for later -- perhaps after it has helped the team to a Super Bowl. By the time that the bicentennial iteration of the Steel Curtain put the AFC in a headlock, it had already powered Pittsburgh to two world titles. It had earned the plaudits. The Broncos offense has not, and its members will readily admit they have much to improve.
Its body of work can be appreciated now, but historical perspective will take some time. Enjoy it from week to week, and focus not on history, but on the accomplishments it has the opportunity to pursue this week -- a 17th consecutive regular-season win and a third consecutive 50-point game.
And now, the three keys to Sunday's game:
1. KEEP THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND.
It appears as though the Broncos have done all they can to ensure that they tackle this game with the proper diligence and give the Jaguars the proper deference any other team deserves. The players and coaches have said all the right things all week, and have focused on the Jaguars' assets. Further, the entire organization has resisted all temptation to look ahead to next week, which will be significant for three reasons: the opponent is the soaring Colts, the game is Peyton Manning's first in Indianapolis since the Colts released him 19 months ago, and Von Miller returns from his six-game suspension.
Fans and pundits alike have pointed to next week for two months. But the Broncos have not -- and should not, at least not until approximately 5:30 p.m. MDT Sunday.
2. PREVENT THE JAGUARS FROM STRIKING DEEP.
This comes down to defending wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the wayward yet talented wide receiver who to date has created more headlines through a four-game substance abuse suspension this year and a DUI arrest last year. But last week he returned and instantly unclogged the Jaguars' backed-up offense, catching five passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. This should have come as no surprise based on his performance late last season; in his last eight regular-season games, he's caught 43 passes for 751 yards and five touchdowns. Double that and you have elite production, made all the more notable by the Jaguars' quarterback issues.
If the Broncos choose to put Champ Bailey on Blackmon, it will provide an immediate and stern test for the future Hall of Famer in his first game since suffering a foot injury Aug. 17.
3. DON'T LET THE JAGUARS LINGER.
Jacksonville's chances at an upset rest upon being able to keep pace and not let the Broncos get too far ahead. Stunning results do happen from time to time in the league, and a common strand of DNA between them is the ability to do just enough early to not let the heavy favorite run away with matters in the first 10 minutes. The Broncos' task is to use the probable return of Champ Bailey to their advantage; it might free them to attack Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne and running back Maurice Jones-Drew with their safeties, which could help compensate for the pressure that is lost if Robert Ayers and Wesley Woodyard do not play; both are doubtful. If Denver can do this and make an explosive defensive play early, they can put the Jaguars into a dark place in which they've spent a majority of the 300 minutes they've played this season: behind two scores with little hope of a comeback.