DENVER, Colo. - Forget the numbers, forget the rivalry and forget the matchups, five games into the 2002 NFL season and none of these actually matter at this point.
What does matter is the fact that Sunday night's game against the Miami Dolphins is a must win situation for the Denver Broncos.
Tied for second place in the AFC West, the toughest division in the NFL does not leave room for errors. Considering the fact that the Oakland Raiders, who are in sole possession of first place with an undefeated 4-0 record, are almost a lock to hand the St. Louis another embarrassing defeat, the importance makes its point.
Working in the Broncos favor is their ability to stop the running game. Throughout the first five games of the season, they have yet to yield a 100-yard rusher. In fact, the combined total of all running backs the Broncos have faced so far amounts to 185-yards total, or broken down more simply, 3.2 yards per carry.
Miami counters with a reborn and revitalized Ricky Williams, acquired in the off-season from New Orleans. Williams brings in a total of four 100+yard rushing games, one shy of a Miami franchise record. This streak seats him firmly as the league's second leading rusher with 565-yards.
"They're better than in years past because of Ricky Williams," said Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. "I think the biggest thing with him is you've got a guy that's hungry and he wants to prove something. He wants to prove that New Orleans gave up on him and they didn't give him a fair shake."
Containing Williams is critical, but it is only one part of the puzzle.
Brian Griese must continue to improve the offensive production. While the running attack has been steadily impressive, the passing game needs more performances like Sunday to pose a serious threat to opposing defenses.
With Rod Smith hampered by a slight shoulder separation, expectations turn toward a three and four receiver attack, utilizing tight ends Shannan Sharpe and Dwayne Carswell. Should Miami set their focus on McCaffrey, Sharpe may finally break free enough to end his twelve-game touchdown drought.
PREDICTION – Denver 24 Miami 17
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