Outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (52) celebrates with free safety Jim Leonhard (36) after Leonhard intercepted a pass during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers. (Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)

Denver Broncos vs. New Orleans Saints: Game Preview

Sunday night’s matchup up features the 3-3 Denver Broncos against the 2-4 New Orleans Saints. The Broncos are coming off of their bye week and trying to win two straight for the first time all season. Meanwhile, the Saints are coming in with two straight wins after losing their first four. The Broncos own a 7-2 advantage all-time (4-1 at home, 3-1 away). The last time these two teams met was in September ’08 and the Broncos beat the Saints 34-32. The Broncos are tied for the NFL’s second best record (17-6) in games immediately following the bye week. For the 13th straight week, the Broncos will have a network’s No. 1 broadcasting crew calling the game. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.. MDT on NBC.

Offense

Broncos: It’s all about putting 60 minutes of good football together in all three phases. The offense has had the biggest issue with that, stumbling out of the gates since the season started. In four out of their first six games, the Broncos haven’t put up any points in the first quarter. They have just 15 points total in the first quarter all season which is troublesome because the first quarter is the quarter that the Broncos have held onto the ball the longest. There’s no better way to change that than by going up against the NFL’s worst defense which is giving up 465.5 yards per game. The Broncos offense is ranked 6th putting up 384.7 yards per game. If any of that second half momentum from the Chargers game can carry over, the Broncos should be fine. Starting the game by letting Peyton Manning make the calls is the first step.

Saints: It’s not their offense that’s their bread and butter. It’s Drew Brees that feeds the team. Brees has this entire team on his shoulders right now with a poorly performing defense and the league’s worst rushing attack. The Saints are No. 1 in passing at 335.2 yards per game, and they’re putting up 29.3 points per game which is good enough for 3rd in the league. If it’s a third down situation, you can bet Brees is passing the ball. All season long when the Saints have been in anything longer than a 3rd and 3, they’ve passed the ball 100% of the time. Brees already has 2,097 passing yards and 18 interceptions. The Saints have seven touchdowns of 20 yards or more which is tied for first place in the NFL. Marques Colston is leading the team in receiving while Pierre Thomas is leading the team in rushing with just 35.7 yards per game.

Defense

Broncos: The Broncos defense has given up some huge plays on third down this season. Now they face the 2nd best third down offense (48.2%). The Broncos are ranked 10th in passing defense. The next best pass defense that the Saints have seen this season is the 12th ranked Atlanta Falcons. Usually when a team is one-dimensional, it’s easier to stop them. This isn’t the case for the Saints. The Broncos could be without starting cornerback Tracy Porter who was suffering from seizure-related symptoms and was held out of week 6. Chris Harris and Tony Carter would replace Porter, and those two men combined for four takeaways in week 6. The Broncos have to limit the big pass plays. Brees is capable of leading slow, high play volume drives, but that will give the Broncos more of a chance to pressure him and create turnovers.

Saints: The Saints are 31st in rush defense and 30th in pass defense. This team could easily give up 40 points to the Broncos between Manning and Willis McGahee. They’re giving up 160.3 rushing yards per game which tells us that if the Broncos can get their ground game going, they can limit Brees’ time on the field. Curtis Lofton leads the team in tackles (59), Junior Galette leads the team in sacks (4.0), and three players have one interception on the season. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is back in the lineup for just the second week after serving his Bountygate-related suspension.

Special Teams

Broncos: Trindon Holliday will get another shot to return punts despite his fumble in week 6. Britton Colquitt’s leg is as important as ever to make Brees work a full field.

Saints: The Saints’ return unit has some jets. We all know what Darren Sproles can do. He’s averaging 28.7 yards per kick return, and has a long of 48 yards. On kickoffs, it’s best if Matt Prater just boots it into the end zone. Saints’ kicker Garrett Hartley is 7-for-9 on field goals with misses from beyond 30 and 40 yards.

Coaching

Broncos: John Fox is very familiar with Brees and the Saints from his days in the same division when he was with the Carolina Panthers. He’s drilled it into his players’ heads that the stats and the win-loss record doesn’t tell the whole story. This is an explosive team on film, and one that’s gaining momentum.

Saints: Interim head coach Joe Vitt is back for the first time since serving a 6-game suspension. Vitt is Sean Payton’s right hand man, and will likely get this defense under control. Vitt knew all along which game he was coming back for, so you can be sure that he spent plenty of time scouting the Broncos from his couch.

Prediction: Broncos – 39 Saints- 28

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