NEW ORLEANS --Sunday's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome might not "count double," as players and coaches often describe divisional games.
But because common opponents are the next divisional tiebreaker beyond head-to-head and divisional record, the Broncos need to avoid their second loss to the NFC South, the division with which the AFC West is paired for inter-conference play this year.
That task is complicated by the Saints' recent momentum -- four wins in their last five games, including home triumphs over the two most recent NFC champions -- and the Broncos' recent spate of defensive injuries and offensive consistency.
This is a sub-optimal time in which to face a Drew Brees-led offense that is firing on all cylinders.
"They understand what we're facing. They understand where we're going," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "This is a hell of a team that we're playing [and it is] playing really well."
And it has played better than the Broncos in recent weeks; they've lost three of their last five games, falling behind by double digits to start each of those defeats, including 13-0 last week at Oakland.
"I think getting over last week was key, getting our mentality going again and getting our spirits up. That's part of football. I think we've done that and we've tried to manage them the right way to get them there because we're going to need everything we've got. They've been very upbeat."
What will the Broncos need to do to play an upbeat tune in the birthplace of jazz?
- SUSTAIN DRIVES**
Furthermore, the Broncos need to sustain them from the start. If they open with four consecutive three-and-outs as they did last week, New Orleans possesses the firepower to put the game out of reach early.
Lengthy drives also keep the Saints' offense off the field -- and the Saints thrive in games where they receive maximum opportunities. This season, New Orleans is 3-0 in games when the Saints and their opponents combine for at least 25 non-kneeldown possessions, and 1-4 when not reaching that number.
2. MINIMIZE THE DAMAGE
New Orleans' offense is going to pick up some yardage. With Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower becoming an effective combination in recent weeks, the Saints have the ground game to effectively complement the Brees-led attack.
In the Saints' first two losses to open the season, the Raiders' and Giants' ability to contain New Orleans in scoring range proved decisive. The Saints crossed the opposing 35-yard line nine times, but only scored three touchdowns, settling for six field-goal attempts by Will Lutz on the other possessions.
One reason why the Broncos defeated Houston in Week 7 was because the Broncos held the Texans to a pair of first-quarter field goals. Instead of trailing 10-0 as they did in their previous two games against Atlanta and San Diego, the Broncos had a manageable 6-0 deficit and quickly took the lead.
3. NO MARGIN FOR ERROR
The Broncos have four turnovers in their last two games, and although one of them was in a desperate situation at the end of last week's game (Reggie Nelson's interception of Siemian), that still represents a pattern the Broncos cannot afford to repeat Sunday -- especially if the giveaways leave the Saints in prime scoring position.