Before the season, this looked like an easy matchup for a Denver team that was supposed to have one of the best defenses in the NFL and an offense good enough to win low-scoring games. The New York Jets were supposed to win only 4.5 games according to Vegas and many rushed to take the under, thinking that number was very generous. Instead, we've got a Jets team that is on the fringe of playoff contention at 5-7 and a Broncos squad spiraling out of control with just three wins on the season.
Josh McCown may not be the long-term answer at quarterback for New York, but he's played fantastically so far this season. Three times McCown has cracked the 300-yard mark including last week in an upset win over the Chiefs at home. The veteran hasn't been as good on the road, throwing five of his eight interceptions in that setting. Wide receiver Robby Anderson has been a revelation, but he injured his hamstring in practice and even if he does play, who knows if he will re-aggravate it? That would mean that Jermaine Kearse would be even busier then he already has been with 21 targets over the last two games. Denver's secondary gets cornerback Aqib Talib back after he served his suspension for his dust-up with Michael Crabtree two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Broncos continue to play musical chairs with their quarterbacks and none of them are very good. Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler have combined for just 14 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. This has to be all the more frustrating for fans (not to mention GM John Elway) considering there are weapons to throw to in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Devontae Booker is even becoming a factor. Frustration levels for this team have to be pretty high considering preseason expectations and the fact that Kansas City leads the AFC West with just a 6-6 record.
New York at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec 10 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Jets -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Awaken the running game
Both teams have been underwhelming on the ground this season. Denver is rotating C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker, but not really getting much in the way of production. Each is managing around four yards per carry, but defenses are loading up against the run because they aren't afraid of the QB du jour. The Jets are a mixed bag against the run. They gave up 145 yards on the ground to Carolina two weeks ago, but held Buffalo and Tampa Bay to a 153 combined over a two-week span back in Weeks 9-10. On the opposite side, you've got Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire and Matt Forte sharing the carries for New York. McGuire has come on lately, but he'll have tough sledding against a Broncos defense that is giving up just 92 rushing yards per game. Denver was gashed last week by Miami with Kenyan Drake (120 yards, TD) doing most of the damage, but the Broncos were without defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko, who are big run-stuffers. Wolfe was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury while Peko is questionable to play on Sunday because of a knee injury.
Turnovers have been a constant theme for Denver as of late. The Broncos have turned it over 21 times over the last eight weeks while creating just seven takeaways. This ball-hawking unit is no longer forcing the issue and that's one of the many reasons they aren't winning. Josh McCown has just eight interceptions, which is a lot less than people would have pegged him for before the season. He's managing games and giving his team a chance. New York's defense has gone two straight contests without forcing a turnover. If the Jets can get an interception or two, then they should pick up a victory in this one. Siemian has 13 of Denver’s 18 interceptions. Ironically, some fantasy experts are touting the Jets as a sleeper defense/special teams to pick up and use this weekend.
What's Denver's motivation to stop the slide? I don't think the Broncos are tanking games for a better draft pick, but they are a good quarterback away from being right back at the top of their division. Will the Denver veterans continue to try and salvage something the rest of the year, or will this defense continue to fail? The Jets were supposed to be one of the teams losing games for a better pick, but they have done the opposite. Besides winning five games to this point, all of but one of their losses have been by nine points or fewer and three have been decided by no more than five points. Is this young team ready to take the next step and win a "tough" road game? New York’s only road win came at Cleveland by three points back in Week 5 so it's not like the Jets have played great away from MetLife Stadium.
I'm very stubborn sometimes especially when it comes to teams who should be playing better than their record. I find it hard to believe that Denver will lose at home to the Jets, who have not played that well on the road. I think the Broncos get enough from their ground game so that the quarterback, whoever it is, won’t need to do much. Denver’s defense does its job and holds Josh McCown and the Jets’ offense in check.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Jets 10
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.