The Denver Broncos (0-3) will play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) on Sunday in the Mile High City. While it's probably too soon for either of these teams to hit the panic button, desperation has to be setting in for the Broncos and first-year head coach Vic Fangio after a winless start. It marks the Broncos first 0-3 start since 1999. And they have now lost seven consecutive games dating back to last season - currently the longest losing streak in the NFL.
Following last Sunday's 27-16 loss at Green Bay, Broncos' wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders described his team’s current predicament as "living in a world of suck." On Tuesday, he described it in slightly more eloquent terms, stating "We're not creating turnovers on defense and we're turning the ball over on offense. We can't do that, that is a recipe for disaster. That's why we’re sitting at 0-3." That is a fair and accurate depiction of Denver's early-season woes. But Sanders also was quick to point out that he believes his team is on the verge of reversing its fortunes. Apparently, oddsmakers agree, making the Broncos 3-point favorites on Sunday. But they will still have to prove it on the field.
The first three weeks of the season have been chock-full of bizarre twists and compelling storylines for the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting with the loss of quarterback Nick Foles (broken collarbone) in a 40-26 loss to the Chiefs in Week 1. That, of course, gave rise to rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, his legendary mustache and "Minshew Mania."
Week 2 somehow proved to be even more eventful, as Jacksonville literally came up an inch short on a potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt on the road against AFC South rival Houston. The result — a heartbreaking 13-12 loss, which also set the stage for the Jalen Ramsey saga.
But if Week 3 was any indication, a resilient Jacksonville team has no intention of letting the Ramsey drama become a distraction. The Jaguars steamrolled division foe Tennessee on "Thursday Night Football." And now, the well-rested Jags will look to carry that momentum into Denver in search of another upset victory.
Meanwhile, Ramsey has been away from the team since Wednesday as he traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for the birth of his second daughter, who arrived Friday. He's officially listed as questionable (Not Injury Related) for Sunday's game and he's also been dealing with a lower back issue. The star cornerback remains adamant in his desire to be traded.
Jacksonville at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Will the sack/takeaway drought finally come to an end for the Broncos?
The Denver Broncos have earned the distinction of being the first NFL team in the last 50 years to have zero sacks and zero takeaways through the first three games of a season. It’s as shocking as it is unpleasant for a defense that was expected to rank near the top of the league in both of those categories this season under new head coach/defensive guru Vic Fangio.
The biggest surprise is that the elite pass-rushing tandem of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, who combined for 26.5 sacks last season, has yet to record a single sack heading into Week 4. In fact, Chubb is the only player on the entire Denver defense that has even touched an opposing quarterback this season, with three quarterback hits to his credit. The lack of pressure, in turn, has hampered the Broncos' ability to generate turnovers. It's also a big reason why the Broncos are 0-3 right now.
While you have to like Denver's chances to end the sack/takeaway drought at home against a backup rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew has not looked like your typical backup rookie quarterback through the first three games. Minshew's mustache, alone, should be enough to keep him safe. But if the magical powers of the 'stache somehow come up short in that endeavor, Minshew has a solid offensive line to fall back on. The Jacksonville O-line has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks (5) and third-fewest QB hits (11) in the NFL through three games. Regardless, the Broncos are capable and must find a way to make life difficult for Minshew and company to get over the hump in this matchup.
2. Will Minshew Mania continue to thrive in Denver?
Mustache jokes aside, the Jaguars' sixth-round draft pick out of Washington State has generated a legitimate buzz with his stellar play to this point. Minshew has thrown five touchdown passes to just one interception in three games, with no less than 204 passing yards in any of those contests. Better yet, his 73.9 percent completion rate and 110.6 passer rating are the highest ever recorded by a rookie quarterback through three games.
Minshew will be the first to admit that he has had plenty of help. The aforementioned Jacksonville offensive line certainly deserves some of the credit. The emergence of Minshew's favorite target, DJ Chark Jr., has paid big dividends as well. The one area in which Minshew could use more help is the running game. Leonard Fournette does not have more than 66 rushing yards in a game this season, and the Jaguars have yet to score a single touchdown on the ground.
The question is, will Minshew continue to find success in Denver this Sunday? It's hard to bet against him at this point, but there is no question that this will be a tough matchup for the rookie quarterback on the road. Denver ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (204.7) and has surrendered just two touchdowns through the air in three games. And despite the Broncos' struggles to generate sacks and turnovers to this point in the season, they certainly have the talent in place to change that on Sunday. Minshew and company will have their work cut out for them.
3. The Denver offense vs. the Jacksonville defense
The Denver offense will have its work cut out as well. The Broncos have been able to move the ball downfield with some success this season. The problem is, they always seem to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot with costly turnovers and untimely penalties. They also have a quarterback in Joe Flacco that holds on to the football too long at times, and an offensive line that could be a real liability on Sunday against a Jaguar pass rush that is tied for the league-lead with 13 sacks.
Sacksonville wreaked havoc on a lackluster Titans offensive line en route to nine sacks last week. Elite pass rusher Calais Campbell was responsible for three of those sacks to garner AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. And much like last week, you can probably expect to see Campbell move around in a bid to exploit weaknesses in the Broncos' offensive front. It will make for a long day for Flacco if his offensive line isn't up for the challenge. The good news is that Jacksonville is giving up 254.7 passing yards per game (18th in the NFL), and the Jaguars' secondary will be even more vulnerable on Sunday without Jalen Ramsey. But again, success in the passing game will largely hinge on the offensive line's ability to give Flacco time to find open receivers, and that's a tall order in this matchup.
However, don't be surprised if Denver finds some success with the one-two punch of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman on Sunday. The Jaguars' run defense can be suspect at times and currently ranks just 16th in the NFL, allowing 109.3 rushing yards per game. They also have allowed five rushing touchdowns in three games.
The Jaguars are coming into this matchup with some steam. They also have a scary pass rush that has the potential to cause real problems for the statuesque Joe Flacco and a Denver offense that is already prone to mistakes. Gardner Minshew hasn't given us any real reason to doubt him to this point either.
But Minshew has never felt the wrath of a Mile High crowd. And he might just be in over his head against a very hungry defense, in a very tough environment on Sunday. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are going to break through sooner than later and this feels like the week. It's most likely going to be an ugly defensive struggle as well, which is even more reason to like Vic Fangio and the Broncos to squeak out their first win of the season in front of the home crowd.
Prediction: Broncos 17, Jaguars 16
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.