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Most people looking at Sunday's game between the 5-0 Denver Broncos and 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars can't help but see it as a joke. The Broncos are scoring at will, while the Jags seem hard-pressed to get near the end zone without the most favorable of circumstances. Denver scored 51 points in a win over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, which matched Jacksonville's point total for the entire season -- a stat fact that started a Twitter beef between the social media accounts held by both teams. The point spread for this game is the highest since the NFL merger -- in the vicinity of 28, depending on which sports book you're looking at on which day of the week.
With all that said, the Broncos could not have been more cautious in their comments about their upcoming -- and seemingly overwhelmed opponent. Head coach John Fox remembered a game in 1998, when the 13-0 Broncos faced the New York Giants, and nobody thought the G-Men had a chance. Fox was the defensive coordinator for the 5-8 Giants, and he remembers his team's 20-16 win as if it happened yesterday.
"[That] Broncos team that was a 15-point favorite coming into the Giants stadium," Fox said "They left with a loss. So this team [the Jaguars] has beaten [the Broncos] I think four out of the last five times we’ve played, the last three in a row. There is nobody here taking anybody lightly. This is pro football. Everybody gets paid and everybody has pride in what they put out there on the field.”
Peyton Manning was certainly taking the Jags seriously when he was asked about what seemed to be a win before either team suits up. Manning faced the Jacksonville franchise twice a year when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, and this will be his 20th meeting with the Jacksonville franchise. His teams are 14-5 in the games he's started, but that didn't stop Manning from proclaiming his respect.
“We have never talked about that and so it’s completely irrelevant to me," he said, when asked about the ridiculous point spread. "We’re playing a good NFL football team. I don’t look at anything besides what I see on the tape. On defense I see a team that’s stingy in the red zone. I’ve seen some offenses that have made some really good plays against them, that have been hard to defend, and certainly it’s a team with a lot of pride. It’s about what are you doing each week. What you did last week, the week before, it really is irrelevant. It’s about this week.”
If that strains credulity ... well, Manning wasn't the only Broncos player blowing smoke. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who played for the Jags from 2009 through 2012, seemed especially intent on reminding people just how good running back Maurice Jones-Drew can be.
“He can do everything as a back," Knighton said. "He can block, he can run, he can catch out of the back field. He’s a smaller guy. He hides behind his blockers but just because he’s a small guy doesn’t mean he doesn’t run hard. A lot of people like to compare to him to [Saints back Darren] Sproles but he’s a totally different back then Sproles. He’s more of a power back; [Buccaneers back] Doug Martin is a similar guy like that. We just have to be gap-sound because if you’re not in your gap and you try to peek and find him, he’ll find that hole and expose you. We just have to continue to do up front what we’ve been doing the last five weeks and not allow teams to run the ball on us and make them one-dimensional.”
Wait -- Jacksonville has dimensions on offense? Yes, indeed, according to Fox, who started with receiver Justin Blackmon.
“He’s an impact player. [WR Cecil] Shorts is their leading receiver. They’ve got athleticism at the tight end position and running back position -- and they’ve done that through a lot of injuries. They had another major injury last week with [Luke] Joeckel going out at left tackle. I think [head coach] Gus Bradley has done a terrific job. I know they’re going to get sick and tired of hearing the same things I’m getting sick and tired of hearing. So we know we’ll get a feisty group [coming up] here, and we'd better show up.”
And that's the real motivation behind all this flowery sentiment about a team that the Broncos should handle pretty easily -- if they take this Sunday off, it's not impossible for the Jags to pull off some sort of crazy upset. Enormously unlikely to be sure, but no Broncos player wants to consider that one-percent alternative.
“I’ve been there before," Knighton concluded, remembering a couple of recent games during his time with the Jags. "Last year, we played Green Bay and New England. They were rolling and they probably looked past us on the schedule and they ended up having to play their best game in the fourth quarter, and that’s something that we’re going to try to avoid.” And there you have it. Don't automatically assume that the Broncos have this in the bag, because they don't. Of course, the Jaguars would far prefer if they did ...