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Ultimate Fan Guide: Broken Colts will be no match for stampeding Broncos

In the first of our Ultimate Fan Guide series, Peyton Manthing helps MHR readers look forward to what promises to be a dazzling display of football prowess when the Broncos host the Colts - in our house this time.

Andy Lyons

The Denver Broncos open the regular season Sunday at Mile High against a somewhat ailing but always tough-to-beat Indianapolis Colts team.

But it's not going to matter because the Broncos players, coaches, fans and their Mile HIgh City are ready for anything. Ready for some football.

Despite the recent setbacks with suspensions of Matt Prater and Wes Welker, the team has maintained focus and resolve that bodes well for a strong opener Sunday night and a statement-making first three weeks.

It will be an electric atmosphere, and we're looking forward to a great battle on Sunday night.   -Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator.

"Yeah, there's so much to be excited about - opening night, opening weekend, guys returning," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio on Thursday. "It will be an electric atmosphere...and we're looking forward to a great battle on Sunday night."

Helping MHR readers look forward to this battle is Peyton Manthing, who's anticipating some INTs, loves to watch his Broncos with ribs and whiskey and thinks Mile High Magic is, well, ... you'll have to read his excellent answers to see!

MHR: We all remember how the Colts handed the Broncos their first loss of the season last year when they beat us 39-33 at Indy. Peyton Manning lost a fumble, threw an interception and was sacked four times. Not a great game. Of all the reasons the Broncos are angry going into this season, avenging last year's loss could be one of them.

Should Peyton Manning and the Broncos be thinking about that as they head into this game or should it be "new year, just another game to win, home opener to impress?"

Peyton Manthing: Since I have never played any sport at a professional level, I'll stop short of recommending the correct "mindset" for any NFL player - let alone a five-time MVP.

Going into this game, I do believe there are lots of potential mental hurdles for the Broncos. The biggest, from this fan's perspective, is that this is the first "prime time" game since the loss to Seattle - the entire country will be watching, and the entire country saw 43-8. That has to cross the mind of every player, particularly those who played in the Super Bowl.

I do believe there are lots of potential mental hurdles for the Broncos. The biggest is that this is the first prime time game since the loss to Seattle where the entire country saw 43-8.  -Peyton Manthing

That loss hangs over this game more than the loss to the Colts last year, I think. It will be interesting to see how the Broncos respond if Indianapolis takes the lead early.

Our Broncos have a chance to win a crucial game against a conference opponent that has an easier schedule than we do. Big-time AFC playoff seeding implications come with this game. Additionally, this Denver team (particularly the reloaded defense) has a chance to send a signal to the entire league.

MHR: Here are two interesting stats - Broncos have lost the last 5 consecutive regular season games against the Colts (6 including the 2004 Wild Card playoff game) - which stands as the Broncos longest current losing streak; in the Pat Bowlen era (since 1984) Broncos own the NFL's best home opener winning percentage at 86.7 percent. What makes you confident that both of those stats will improve in the Broncos' favor after Sunday night's game?

Peyton Manthing: Ultimately, I'm confident because the Broncos are a better team than the Colts.  Simple, but true. I think the Broncos have a clear advantage at quarterback, the skill positions, both offensive and defensive line, and in the secondary.  This could be the most talented Broncos roster ever assembled. (thanks, Mr. Elway)

That said, I've watched the Colts play in the preseason, and I was surprised at how talented they looked. It's popular to talk about how Andrew Luck has carried substandard Colts teammates over the past two years, but that might not be the case this year.  This team looks faster and more physical than last year's Indy squad, and I think Hakeem Nicks has been an underrated signing in particular.

With some due respect to the fans in Kansas City and Seattle, Denver probably has the most significant "real" home field advantage in the NFL (I'll hear arguments about the humidity in Miami early in the season).  Our NFL-best home opener winning percentage might be a reflection of that, but I suspect that it has more to do with the quality of talent and coaching we've had over the past 30 years.

Peyton Manning was a big reason that the Colts have had success against the Broncos over the past decade. Ironic/fitting/damned cool that he is the very man to help us turn that around...

MHR - Since the news of Wes Welker's suspension, fans have jumped on the rhetoric that the offense will be fine without him because there are plenty of good guys to follow. On Wednesday, Manning noted that it would be "disrespectful" and "inaccurate" to say it won't be difficult without Welker there. How do you see the Broncos responding to this adversity just days before the home opener?

Peyton Manthing: I've heard both Broncos fans and professional media members suggest that the Broncos will be "unaffected" by the Welker suspension. Poppycock, I say.

Wes Welker is the best pure slot receiver of all time. Even in his advanced age, he is probably the best in the NFL today. He's a demon on third down, and has had a real nose for the shallow corner of the end zone since he's been here.

More importantly, Welker changes the way defenses can design and call plays against the Broncos -- his skill set is that unique. JT certainly doesn't get the same looks when #83 is out of the game. We are a worse offense without him.

That said, this team is loaded at the skill positions. Tamme, Sanders and Caldwell are all reasonable replacements in the slot (we could even flex JT there and have Virgil line up at a natural TE). We should be able to score lots of points, even without Welker.

MHR: What offensive stat would you like to see be awesome for the Broncos in this game - and why is that one the most important?

Peyton Manthing: Outside of "Points Scored," the stat I am most interested in is "Yards Per Carry." The runner up would be "Sacks/Pressures Allowed."

I am, admittedly, a much bigger fan of the passing game than the running game. This team has rightfully been constructed around Peyton and his right arm, but that doesn't mean that being an efficient running team isn't important. I don't really care about total yards, but I do really care about how efficiently the Broncos gain rushing yards. For instance, I'd rather see 11 carries for 60 yards than 25 carries for 100 yards.

Anyone who watched Pete Carroll mic'd up during the Super Bowl understands how little the Seahawks respected the Broncos' running game. It's possible that we have to travel to Foxborough during the playoffs, and an effective running game will be critical if the weather turns bad (it probably would, since Massachusetts sucks in the winter).

MHR: What stellar defensive stat for the Broncos are you hoping (planning) to see?

Peyton Manthing: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The data supporting the importance of turnovers is staggering. The Broncos were not a great plus/minus team in this department last year, and Super Bowl champions tend to have outstanding turnover ratios. The Broncos need to force more turnovers in 2014.

Andrew Luck has a little Cutler/Favre in him, and he'll force a throw or three.  I'd like to see the Broncos capitalize on interception chances, especially if Aqib Talib or T.J. Ward are the ones catching them. Or Rahim Moore, who has never developed into the ball hawk we all hoped for.

MHR: Former Denver Bronco safety Mike Adams is now at the Colts and reporters have been asking him this week if coaches and players are picking his brain about his former QB (who ironically played for Indy and you'd think they already knew!) Do you think his time practicing against Peyton Manning gives the Colts any kind of an edge for designing plays against him? Does it even matter? Can it possibly help the 33-year-old, 5'11" Adams cover Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders?

Peyton Manthing: I don't think it gives any advantage to the Colts whatsoever. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) Any familiarity would go both ways, and Peyton is better able to take advantage of Mike Adams than Mike Adams is able to take advantage of Peyton.

2) The Colts have several players -- like Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis -- who are much, much more familiar with Manning than Mike Adams would be. Adams might be useful against Julius Thomas, for instance, but I think Coach Pagano is more likely to seek insight from other players when it comes to No.18.

Adams will be worth watching, though. You often hear about players feeling compelled to "prove" something against their former teams, and I'm hoping that results in aggressive mistakes from the former Bronco.

MHR: What do you think will be the key match-ups in this game for the Broncos' offensive line?

Peyton Manthing: That's a good question, and I don't know that I have a great answer for it. Erik Walden and the awesomely-named Bjoern Werner were underwhelming for the Colts last year, who relied very heavily on Robert Mathis to produce quarterback pressure.  If there are Colts fans reading this, I'd like to hear their take on from where and how the pressure will come.

Mathis won't play in the game, which Ryan Clady and Chris Clark must appreciate, seeing as how he had 19.5 sacks last year.  His ankle-spraining strip-sack of Peyton Manning during last year's game was a very impactful play, and a highlight that the NFL Network seems to run an awful lot.

I think I'll be watching Orlando Franklin very closely, because he has different protection responsibilities as an OG. That's not really a specific match-up, but it's where I'll be paying attention.

MHR: Which receiver do you expect to be a primary Manning target and why? How important do you anticipate the run game being in this game?

Peyton Manthing: For both this game and for the season, DT will be the primary target. We saw that all preseason. I think he has a good shot at 100+ catches and 1,600+ yards in 2014. That said, I do expect Julius Thomas to lead in touchdown receptions this year.

Sanders has a reputation for being very good against press coverage, which the Colts employed liberally against us last year. There are big-play possibilities there as well.

I think the running game is more important when the Broncos are on the road, since it slows down pass-rushers and quiets the crowd. As I mentioned before, I do look for a high YPC as a significant measuring stick for this offense all year long.

MHR: Which Broncos defensive match-ups are you most excited about - from the line to the backs to the safeties?

Peyton Manthing: I want to see Talib, Chris Harris, Jr. and Bradley Roby vs. Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and T.Y. Hilton. The Colts have a lot of good offensive weapons (Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are both capable tight ends, too), and this secondary has injury/inexperience question marks.

I'll go ahead and suggest that the Broncos have a significant advantage in the trenches - the Indianapolis offensive line struggled last year, and now they have to face one of the best defensive lines in the NFL while having several starters out. Plus, Broncos' Von Miller and Demarcus Ware are terrifying. If the back end can hold up for even a short period of time, watch out.

The Colts really abused the Broncos on play-action a year ago, so it's also worth watching how Moore, Ward and the linebackers react to run fakes.

MHR: Give us some game predictions on the following:

  • Number of yards passing for Manning? I'll give a full stat line for PM:  29-40, 338 yards, 3 TD and 1 INT
  • Over/under on Manning rushing for more than one yard? I really, really, really hope he has zero rushing attempts until he kneels down to end the game. 2 rush, -4 yards.
  • Number of yards total by the running backs? 95 yards rushing by Ball & Co.
  • Number of sacks on Andrew Luck by the defense? At least 3 and likely more. This is not a good offensive line, and Luck holds on to the ball too long.
  • DT/DE/DB with the most tackles? T.J. Ward. I'm impressed with how well he chases down ball carriers.
  • Number of penalties on the Broncos (excluding taunting by Peyton)?  I'll go with six. An off sides or two, at least one personal foul from the defense, and some PI / holding thrown in there.
  • Final Score? Broncos 34, Colts 21. I think the game is a little more competitive than that score indicates.

MHR: Now just for fun tell us...

  • Favorite Broncos game ever that you've watched? In person? The OT playoff win over the Steelers a few years back. On TV? Super Bowl XXXII.
  • Worst loss ever besides last year's Super Bowl (that one's too much of a gimme)? Tie between the ‘96 playoff loss to the Jaguars and the ‘12 loss to the Ravens
  • Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Peyton Manning was my favorite NFL player of all time before he arrived in Denver. This isn't even close.
  • Favorite Broncos player of all time? I'll go with someone other than Peyton here: Al Wilson. Loved watching him play.
  • Best Broncos game ever played? Tough one. The first one that comes to mind was the September 2008 game against San Diego, when Jay Cutler hit that two-point conversion to Eddie Royal to win 39-38.
  • Favorite thing to eat/drink while watching a game? A nice plate of ribs and a Maker's Mark whiskey. I'm also a big fan of nacho cheese dip mixed with some hot sauce.
  • T/F - Mile High Magic is real? Tim Tebow won a playoff game here. I'll leave it at that.