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Ground and pound. Broncos seek to upset Bills with balanced offense

Can Denver deliver strong run game, control clock?
Posted at 10:40 AM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 18:22:59-05

DENVER -- The number assaults common sense. The last time the Buffalo Bills won the AFC East was 1995. This represents a testament to the Patriots' greatness and an indictment of the Bills' clumsy journey into irrelevance.

"Waterfalls" from TLC was a Billboard hit. Not to be confused with the Niagara Falls, which has been a smash waterfall for 400 years. "Batman Forever" and "Apollo 13" topped the box office.

It's been awhile.

However, the Bills can clinch a division title with a victory Saturday over the Broncos. They have won six of their past seven games, their lone loss during this stretch was Arizona's "Hail Murray" in the desert. As such, the Bills are strong favorites on Saturday -- 5.5 to 6 points depending on the book -- and highly motivated.

The Broncos aim to avoid their fourth straight season with a losing record, a stretch they have not endured since the dust bowl of 1963-72. Denver is coming off an impressive win against the Panthers, which featured Drew Lock's best-ever performance. Can the Broncos back it up with an upset of the Bills?

My Denver7 keys to victory:

Mel's Diner
If there is one thing that makes Bills fans nervous about this game, it is their team's rush defense. They rank 20th, allowing 120 yards per game. The Broncos have established a physical identity over the past month, now averaging 117 yards per game, good enough for 13th overall. Melvin Gordon, whose DUI trial was pushed back to January, leaving him available the remainder of the season, has found his rhythm. He boasts 366 rushing yards on 66 carries over the past five games for a healthy 5.5 average per pop. Phillip Lindsay, meanwhile, has been slowed by toe, knee and hip injuries. He has half Gordon's production (177 yards) over his his last 62 carries, a 2.9 average. Lindsay can provide a change of pace, but the Broncos need to lean heavily on Gordon.

Check, Check 1, 2
No quarterback relishes the title of Charlie Checkdown. It comes across as a derisive term. In the case of Drew Lock, it is not. His ability to find middle ground last week paid huge dividends. He realized he doesn't need the driver on every hole. The iron that keeps you in the fairway works fine. For the Broncos to take big steps offensively, Lock must eliminate turnovers. He had one fumble last week, but ended his seven-game interception streak and handled the blitz much better than in previous games. Zero turnovers would give the Broncos a real chance of surprising the Bills.

Safety dance
The Broncos are in a tough spot, down to three trusted cornerbacks in Michael Ojemudia, DeVante Bausby and Will Parks. The onus is on safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons to keep the group duct-taped together. Is this the week Jackson produces a fumble or Simmons nets a pick? Josh Allen, who is having a terrific season, will likely give them two or three chances to create a turnover. It cannot be missed.

Can you Diggs it?
There might not be a more productive receiver in the NFL this season than Stefon Diggs. The Broncos need to disguise coverages and protect their corners with zone matchups on Diggs. Diggs will get his numbers. The key is keeping him out of the end zone.

Turn it up
Watch the first half of the Bills' win over the Steelers. The blitz gave Buffalo fits. Broncos coach Vic Fangio must unleash linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell up the middle, and get a few easy three-and-outs. Allen will rush at times, and Denver must not forget this by staying disciplined when he scrambles.

In the Middle
The Bills don't hide their aggression. They bring pressure roughly 40% of the time. So if rookie Netane Muti starts at right guard, the challenge will be real. He performed well in his debut, showing off his breathtaking strength and mobility. But if Graham Glasgow cannot go, communication will be more important with center Lloyd Cushenberry and Muti in blitz recognition.

On Special
We have talked so much about how the Broncos' special teams have undermined the effort the last five years, we forgot what excellence looked like. The Broncos won in the margins last week as Diontae Spencer returned a punt 83 yards for a score. If he's able to bust a 30 to 40-yarder Saturday that could be the difference in a one possession game.

RENCK'S PREDICTION: Bills 27, Broncos 21

Editor's Note: Denver7 will carry the Broncos-Bills game Saturday, with pregame starting at 2 p.m.