Regardless of how the last quarter of the season unfolds, this is fun.
Really, really, fun.
To talk about the Denver Broncos and the AFC playoff picture, as opposed to where they could sit in the NFL Draft, is much prefered. A month ago, it was a given the Broncos were headed toward the latter. But the last three weeks have put Denver right in the thick of the AFC playoffs.
The Broncos have shown they are a resilient team that plays complementary football and doesn’t lack confidence. They used that formula to put together a three-game winning streak and three-straight wins on the road. At 6-6, Denver is in the playoff discussion but will need help to get the final wildcard spot.
As Adam Malnati and I said on the latest MHR Radio Podcast, the Broncos need to take care of their business first and then let the rest fall where it may. Next up for Denver is the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the Bay area.
The #Broncos have a chance to expand their playoff wealth, so on Sunday vs the #49ers, @AdamMalnati16 & I want Denver to strike gold. On the @MileHighReport Radio Podcast, that means continue what they've been doing over the 3-game winning streak. #DENvsSF https://t.co/NOPJ7jpfpm— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) December 5, 2018
Denver: Fourteenth in overall offense (365.7 yards), Fifth in rushing (132.5), 23rd in passing (233.2) and 17th in points (23.0).
San Francisco: Fifteenth in overall offense (363.3 yards), tied for seventh in rushing (129.2), 21st in passing (234.1) and 22nd in points (21.3).
Denver: Twenty-fifth in overall defense (382.8 yards), 23rd in rushing (122.1), 23rd in passing (260.7) and 11th in points (21.8).
San Francisco: Twelfth in overall defense (348.8 yards), 15th in rushing (108.2), 13th in passing (240.6) and 29th in points (28.0).
Here are our keys to the game.
Feed “The Pitbull”
Phillip Lindsay just had a career day in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals. His 19 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns paced the Broncos. Do it again this Sunday in San Francisco. Lindsay is the playmaker who paces Denver’s offense, so continue to feed him the ball. In fact, get him more touches by involving him in the passing game. Keep opposing defenses on their heels. As for Broncos Country, celebrate Lindsay with this new shirt. — Ian St. Clair
Blanket George Kittle
Kittle has emerged as one of the best tight ends in football. He’s also the 49ers’ only serious receiving threat, with over 550 more receiving yards than their second-most prolific receiving option. He’s caught 36 of Nick Mullens’s 91 completions so far, so take him away and Mullens will suffer. Denver obviously can’t ignore the other receivers out there, but of the teams left on the schedule, this one is objectively the least capable of taking advantage of Chris Harris Jr’s absence. And with Matt Breida likely out, San Francisco’s run game won’t be as dangerous as it could otherwise be. The Broncos may be able to sacrifice a little bit on run defense, schematically, in favor of locking down Kittle. Personally, I’d be interested to see how Justin Simmons does in coverage on him. — Taylor Kothe
The 49ers have a pretty bad defense this year, but there are pieces that could cause Denver a lot of issues. DeForest Buckner could terrorize the Broncos interior line and free up others, which would be an issue for Case Keenum because so many of the Niners defensive linemen are long as heck. San Francisco is weak to play action and Denver should use that and rolling pockets to get Keenum free to take shots deep where Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders could really destroy a weak secondary. — Just_JoRo
Can the secondary respond to the loss of Harris? Bradley Roby will be the No. 1 corner against the 49ers. Will he be able to fill the role adequately enough to prevent the defense from being picked apart? — Adam Malnati
Vance Joseph has this team believing and seems to have found his own identity, as well as his team’s, in the last three weeks. For the Broncos to have a chance at the playoffs, he needs to bring that leadership in spades and pump the players up in a game against an inferior opponent. The 49ers are bad, really bad, but the Arizona Cardinals just won ... in Green Bay ... against Aaron Rodgers. Joseph has to have this team geared up to play a Week 14 Super Bowl. — Kevin Gillikin
You have the No. 1 pass-rushing duo in the NFL, and Shelby Harris has come on the last few games to be that interior presence Denver needs. Help your young, beat up secondary and pressure the heck out of the inexperienced quarterback. — Jeff Essary