Denver Broncos (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0) ==================================================
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS (Gus Johnson, Dan Fouts)
SERIES: 25th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series 16-8. Denver won the last meeting in 2006. The last time the two teams hooked up in a regular-season opener was 2003, a 30-10 Broncos' win.
PREDICTION: Bengals 21-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Broncos coach Josh McDaniels doesn't have quite the weapons to replicate his success from New England, but he will spread the field and throw often as the Bengals lack intimidating pass rushers. QB Kyle Orton (finger) appears likely to play, but the gameplan wouldn't change with backup Chris Simms. Rookie RB Knowshon Moreno should be in the mix for the power-based ground game along with Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan and Peyton Hillis. The offensive line is a concern for Cincinnati, especially after the ground game flopped during the preseason. But minus their top two tight ends for the season, the Bengals will utilize plenty of three-receiver sets to take advantage of WRs Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry.
FAST FACTS: First-year Broncos head coaches are 8-0 in their regular-season debuts (not counting interim coaches). ... Of the Bengals 53-man roster, 23 players are new from Week 1 last season.
--CB Champ Bailey didn't say if he would match up with Chad Ochocinco on Sunday, but the Bengals are prepared for that. Even though Ochocinco got the best of Bailey in a 2004 matchup, two years later Bailey held him to three catches for 32 yards. That was the last meeting between the two.
--QB Kyle Orton practiced again Thursday with a glove on his right hand. Coach Josh McDaniels said he is "hopeful" Orton will be able to play Sunday, and that he should be able to go if there's no further setbacks. McDaniels said Orton's throwing hasn't been affected by an injury to his right index finger.
--DE Le Kevin Smith missed another day of practice. He would usually be a part of the defensive line rotation, but will probably miss Sunday's game.
--G Chris Kuper practiced for the second straight day. He is only two weeks removed from a high ankle sprain, but it appears he will be able to play in the opener.
--WR Jabar Gaffney could play on Sunday, McDaniels said. Gaffney broke his thumb less than three weeks ago, but has been practicing. McDaniels said Gaffney is tough, and could play if he doesn't have a setback late this week.
-- WR Chris Henry did not dress or practice on Thursday due to a thigh injury. He was riding an exercise bike during practice.
-- FS Chris Crocker will be the third cornerback in nickel situations. Crocker has played corner in the nickel before. David Jones continues to be out with a foot injury while Geoffrey Pope and Morgan Trent have not stepped up as third corners.
-- C Kyle Cook will get his first NFL start on Sunday. Of the three new starters on the offensive line, the second-year player has continued to impress coaches with his ability to be physical and communicate line calls.
-- K Shayne Graham, who was sidelined by a groin injury for three weeks, is back to 100 percent and will play.
-- SS Roy Williams, who was listed as having limited participation in practice on Wednesday due to a thigh injury, had full participation in practice on Thursday. He had eight tackles in the 2005 game against the Broncos while with the Cowboys.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Receiver Brandon Marshall is almost certain to play Sunday, after missing the entire preseason with off-field issues, including a suspension by the team.
How much Marshall will play and how big of a role the Broncos will ask of him is unclear.
"Brandon certainly will (contribute), and he's had a good week of practice," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "But we're going to use a lot of people. It's going to be hot."
Marshall said during the preseason he wasn't close to learning the playbook, which raised some flags. He didn't practice with the team all offseason because he was recovering from hip surgery, then a hamstring injury knocked him out for two weeks in training camp. When he came back he was stuck on the scout team and eventually suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
So there are some issues that could keep Marshall from having a huge role. However, his attitude upon his return has been praised by coaches and teammates. And if the Broncos don't have Jabar Gaffney, who is not a sure thing to play because of a thumb injury, that means Marshall may have to play a lot right away.
"We don't necessarily have a preset plan, and that's usually how we do it with our skill players," McDaniels said. "But he should be out there a bunch and contribute a bunch also."
While all indications appear that Kyle Orton will be the starting quarterback for the Broncos against the Bengals on Sunday, the Bengals' secondary is still preparing for the possibility of facing both Orton and Chris Simms.
Preparing for both presents an interesting challenge since Orton is a right-handed thrower while Simms is a lefty.
"For the cornerbacks they don't have much difference. I think for the safeties it would be a bigger concern because they read their shoulders," cornerback Leon Hall said. "They are both pocket passers, so not like we're preparing for one guy who is a runner and another who is a passer."
The Denver receivers will present an interesting matchup for the Bengals' secondary. Everyone focuses on Brandon Marshall, but Eddie Royal caught 91 passes last year for five touchdowns while Brandon Stokley and Jabbar Gaffney are dependable possession receivers who can also break away and get lots of yards.
Hall had three interceptions last year while Joseph played just half the season and had one.
The Broncos do like to spread the field, but the Bengals' defense will also have to be concerned about receiver screens and yards after the catch.
"Obviously I'm concerned about Marshall but they're going to try and spread the ball out as much as possible. I know they're not going to play smashmouth against us," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said.
With the additions of safeties Chris Crocker and Roy Williams, cornerbacks Hall and Johnathan Joseph have had to up their level of physical play. Crocker and Williams have always been known as hard hitters, but both corners have responded.
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