Sure, the homer in me says Cutler is a top-5 quarterback that should hold the advantage against every QB in the League except for someone named Manning or Brady. Make no mistake Cutler is on his way, but true greatness is measured by more than a couple of off-the-chart games.
Since joining the Saints prior to the 2006 season, Brees has thrown for nearly 9,500 yards and 58 touchdowns. His completion percentage has risen each season and in 2008 is just under 70%. Year after year, Brees has gotten consistently better and he has alot of weapons at his disposal. There might be some hard feelings for Brees as well, since it was duing a game against the Broncos in 2005 that essentially ended his career as a San Diego Charger.
Ask me again later in the year, and I may go Cutler, but Brees is a top notch quarterback on and off the field, and if the Broncos can't get in his face it could be a long day defensively.
This is a tough one since both teams rely on a committee approach, but with so many questions in the Saints' backfield I have to give the edge to the Broncos.
For New Orleans, I still get the sense that they are trying to figure out how best to use Reggie Bush. I think they know his skills are best utilized in space, but with no real option to hand the ball off to, Bush has been forced to be more of a traditional back. Deuce McAllister is supposed to be the thunder to Reggie Bush's lightning, but multiple knee injuries continue to slow him down. Pierre Thomas is a big back and someone to keep an eye on. I feel the Saints are going to try and control the game on the ground and Thomas could be the one who gets a bulk of the carries.
For the Broncos, it will be the hot hand, whether that is Andre Hall, Selvin Young or Michael Pittman. While there is some question about who gets the ball between the 20's, there is little doubt as to who the Red Zone back is. Pittman has 3 touchdowns in 2 games and seems to be getting more comfortable in the system.
With the Saints being on of the worst defenses in football against the run, I think the Broncos will do their best to dictate the temp as well, hoping to avoid the quick-score potential of the Saints.
Both teams have solid receiving units, both outside and at tight end, but the loss of Marques Colston give the Broncos the advantage. Without Colston, the Saints just don;t have that receiver that will go over the middle and make a tough catch. Devery Henderson, Robert Meachum and David Patton all prefer to do their dirty work on the outside. That is going to put a lot of pressure on Jeremy Shockey to make things happen down the middle of the field.
What the Saints don;t have at receiver the Broncos have an abundance of. Brandon Marshall will go anywhere, anytime to get his hands on the football, and Eddie Royal is quickly becoming an asset inside as well. Brandon Stokley has made a living in the slot and isn;t afraid to make the tough catch. Add in Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham, and the Broncos have a 5-headed monster to catch Jay Cutler's laser passes. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Cutler has raked up 650 passing yards after only 2 weeks.
Jamaal Brown is one of the best in football, but the Saints O-Line as a whole has struggled this season, especially trying to run the football. They allowed 3 sacks in two games, but 2 of Drew Brees' passes have been tipped as well, leading to interceptions. In both cases, the pcket was collapsed into Brees' face, a problem since Drew isn't that tall of a QB.
There is alot of talent and money tied up in the Saints' defensive line, starting with Rookie DT Sedrick Ellis. Charles Grant and Will Smith team up with Bobby McCray at defensive end to form a powerful group of pass rushers. Because they are so aggressive, they are susceptible to the run, as shown by the 147 yards a game New Orleans gives up on the ground. Despite that, this group is among the best, and once they get th motor started, it is hard to stop.
The Broncos d-line is still a work in progress and will look to get a shot in the arm this Sunday from Jarvis Moss. It is hard to say Moss is a bust since he was hurt much of last season, but the Broncos need to start seeing a return from the former Gator. I did see some nice things last week from Moss' counterpart in the 2007 draft, Tim Crowder, and DeWayne Robertson was getting some push last week, though Phil Rivers did a good job getting rid of the football. Too many maybe's and if's for the Broncos, I like the Saints D-Line.
Former teammates at 'The U', D.J. Williams and Jonathon Vilma have had their share of ups and downs in the NFL. Williams finished 3rd behind Vilma in the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting and both have shown signs of being great NFL linebackers. Both have struggled at times with position moves, however, though Williams is a big part of the Broncos future while Vilma found his new fortune in New Orleans instead of New York.
What give the Broncos the edge are the supporting casts, with Nate Webster and Boss Bailey being a better combination than Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita. To make matter worse, both Fujita and Shanle are battling injuries. While Shanle looks like he'll be ready, Fujita is likely out Sunday. The Broncos need better play from their group this weekend, but despite some struggles they are still the better corps this week.
Once again, the Broncos simply have more talent than the Saints in the secondary. The Saints should get a boost from the return of CB Mike MacKenzie. Randall Gay may return as well, providing solid depth. On the other side, however, the Saints have alot of problems with Jason David, who has been a bust since being signed to a big free agent deal before last season. Injures plague the safety group as well, making the Saints defensive backfield a huge vulnerability.
The Broncos, on the other hand, are relatively healthy in back, and this could be the weekend that sees Bailey and Bly become the ballhawks they are known to be. Drew Brees is a great quarterback, but he can be forced into mistakes. There are alot of tipped balls that will be primed for the taking. I like the Broncos DB's to get a couple turnovers on Sunday.
This comes down to sheer explosive ability in the return game more than anything to do with the punting or kicking game. Reggie Bush is as good as it gets returning punts, having gone 55 yards for a Touchdown last week against the Redskins. The Broncos coverage teams are always an adventure, and I'm sure Bush watched what Darren Sproles did to the Broncos last week.
I happen to like the Broncos combination of Kern and Prater to Gramatica and Weatherford, but the threat of the Saints return game give a big advantage to New Orleans.
Sean Payton is one of the bright offensive minds in the NFL today, but Mike Shanahan is still the Mastermind. Yes, the Broncos have alot of offensive talent, but Shanahan's game plans so far this season have been brilliant. It seems Shanny has been re-energized by the youth of both the team and his quarterback and that fire in his eyes has returned. I like Payton, but Shanahan has the edge in an offensive matchup.
Another week, another 80 points? You have to wonder, given the way these two defenses have played so far. I look for both teams to come out and try to establish the run. While these offensive shoot-outs are fun, I'd rather not have a game come down to whoever has the ball last. The Broncos need to get the running game going if they are going to have true success in 2008.
A game like this, a week after a huge divisional win, against a NFC team, has the markings of a huge trap game for Denver. That is where Jay Cutler comes in. This is his team, and he needs to show the same focus and intensity this week as he did the previous two weeks. The Broncos should beat the Saints, and with all the attention of being a "surprise" team come the expectations and pressure. Part of Cutler's growth will be how he plays as a favorite. I expect him to come through big and keep the Broncos on the right path.
FINAL PREDICTION: Denver Broncos 34 - New Orleans 23.
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