The Denver Broncos might be 8-5, with three very tough games to close out the season. But, if they can pull out a win this week against the 11-2 New England Patriots, it could provide them with the momentum they need to close out the season with three consecutive wins.
Last season, when the undefeated Patriots traveled to Mile High in Week 12, the Broncos were home underdogs, but on a bitterly-cold, snow-covered night, it was the Broncos who came out on top in overtime, thanks to some tough running by C.J. Anderson.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-get-si-subscription-with-... The Broncos are three-point dogs once again.
Von Miller was a big reason the Broncos emerged victorious over the Patriots, both in Week 12 and in the AFC Championship game, accounting for 3.5 sacks and an interception.
I had an opportunity to chat with the All-Pro outside linebacker about Denver's rematch with the Patriots. He's doing some promotional work for Digiorno Pizza. Von is set to appear in a video for Digiorno called "Rise To The Occasion".
“Some of my favorite moments are when I get together with family and friends to have fun, share some pizza and spend some time together," Miller told me. "That’s why I’m partnering with DiGiorno to make sure to get the most out of those moments that matter. DiGiorno created the ultimate party anthem called “Rise to the Occasion” to help get the most out of our moments that matter."
• You can watch the teaser trailer for "Rise To The Occasion" in the video below.
The Broncos are very motivated heading into Week 15. One of the big reasons is because they've lost two of their last three games, the most recent of which was a 13-10 disappointment in Tennessee.
In that game, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Harry Douglas infamously chop-blocked Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. It was a cheap, dirty play. And the Broncos were lucky that Harris didn't sustain any major damage and was able to return to the game.
However, Aqib Talib did not take kindly to Douglas' tomfoolery, retaliating on the very next play on the Titans sideline. Talib was flagged for a personal foul, costing the Broncos defense 15 yards.
But Talib made it clear that such aggression would be met with an equal and opposite reaction. It sparked a resurgence by the Broncos defense, who did not relinquish another point after that drive.
After the game, Talib made even more news by threatening to administer a beat-down to Douglas the next time he sees him. I asked Miller what his thoughts were on Talib's behavior, both on the field and in the locker room.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1737532-the-broncos-can-t-give-up... Miller believes that there's no place for that behavior in the NFL, and that players should take care of each other and take their cues from the NBA.
“That’s my big brother," Miller said. "He’s a leader on our team. You know, he has a voice and he has a platform to do it. Right or wrong, I’m going to be with Talib on whatever. In the National Football League we’ve got to take better care of each other though. You see it happen in the NBA all the time. They’ve got guys going up for bigtime dunks or they can dive on the floor, or whatever, and it has the potential to be a serious injury. And you see superstars pull up all the time and just let the play happen. Especially on a play like that. For us, the backside of the play. Chris, he wasn’t even involved in the block. The play was completely on the other side. I just feel like we’ve got to take better care of each other.”
In almost every major defensive statistical category, the Broncos are ranked in the top-10. They're ranked No. 1 in passing defense, No. 2 in sacks, and No. 3 in total yards.
Compared to their sensational 2015 counterparts, they've looked and performed about the same. The Broncos have struggled in two specific areas in 2016, however. Defending the run and allowing opposing teams to score on their opening possession.
After writing about these very issues for the last 15 weeks, I was confident there is no easy answer as to why the Broncos have struggled in this department. According to Miller, however, it's not a scheme issue. It comes down to player execution.
“We’ve just got to lock in and we’ve just got to focus," Miller said. "Coach [Defensive Coordinator Wade] Phillips, he puts us in great positions. Coach Phillips does a great job coaching us. We’ve got the perfect formations — just individually we’ve got to make it happen. The players, we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got great coaching over here. Like I said before, on paper, the formations, where we are, it looks incredible. We’ve just got to go out there and make it happen from an individual standpoint — for each other.”
It's no secret that there's no love lost between the Broncos and the Patriots. Sure, they respect one another's prowess, but this matchup has arguably become the most fierce non-Divisional rivalry in the NFL.
At 11-2, the Patriots are riding high. Head Coach Bill Belichick continues to confound and exploit the weaknesses of the opposition. Whether a team is faced with matching up with Tom Brady and the offense, or against Belichick's defense, beating the Patriots is a tall order.
And yet, the Broncos have managed to pull it off twice in a row. The Patriots have historically struggled to win at Mile High through the Belichick/Brady era. This is a game Miller and his teammates have had circled on the schedule since it was released by the NFL.
“They have a tremendous defense," Miller said. "And they have Tom Brady. I mean, Tom Brady and all the individual players they have on offense, it creates an incredible challenge for any team out there. We have to go out there and play our game. Out of all the weeks to do it, we’ve got to make sure it happens this week. It’s the biggest game of the year. And we’ve got to make it happen.”
The biggest game of the year? I would agree. The implications of this game are enormous. The Broncos kissed the one-seed goodbye when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs back in Week 12.
Right now, if they win out, the Broncos would be guaranteed a Wildcard spot. And there's still a chance, albeit a slim one, that they could win the Division, but it would take both Oakland and Kansas City losing their remaining games.
The one-seed and the Division crown might be out of reach, but a sixth-consecutive playoff berth is not. And it all starts with beating the Patriots. Miller knows how important this game is and he'll be ready to bring the pressure and capitalize on opportunities when they arise.
“We’ve just got to stay in the game," Miller said. "He’s [Brady] going to get the ball off. He has a great offensive line in front of him. We’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities when it presents itself. You will have opportunities. You’ve just got to make it happen whenever you get that opportunity.”
From the sounds of it, Broncos fans can look forward to another Conference classic on Sunday, in the cold, thin December air of Mile High.
• You can listen to the Von Miller interview in the Locked On Broncos Podcast below.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.