The Denver Broncos host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority at Mile High as Peyton Manning continues to make his case for league MVP.
Manning is trying to sow up his fifth career MVP trophy and has the Broncos atop the AFC West with an 8-3 record, and vying for a first round bye.
In his first year in Denver, Manning is third in the league in passer rating, fifth in completions, second in completion percentage, and the Broncos are on pace for their best record since 2005 when they went 13-3.
Last week Denver dropped the Kansas City Chiefs 17-9, despite going 1-for-4 in the red zone. Manning threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with receiver Demaryius Thomas four times for 82 yards and a score.
Running back Knowshown Moreno played his first full game as the new starter with Willis McGahee out for the season, tallying 85 yards on 20 carries, and did an excellent job picking up blindside blitzes on Manning.
The Broncos appear to have their regular season wrapped up, while the Buccaneers are trying to keep pace in the crowded NFC Wild Card race.
Just behind Seattle for the final playoff spot due to tiebreakers, Josh Freeman and Tampa Bay only have two games remaining against teams with winning records.
The Buccaneers nearly got a leg up on division rival Atlanta, but a long, missed field goal and a failure to hold off quarterback Matt Ryan proved the difference in a 24-23 loss.
Ryan would lead the Falcons back from a 23-17 deficit with a six-play 64 yard drive capped by running back Michael Turner’s three-yard score, and Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth missed a 56-yard field with less than four minutes left that would’ve taken back the lead.
Freeman went 19-for-30 for 256 yards, and running back Doug Martin rushed for 50 yards and both of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns.
Atlanta was able to connect on several deep passes last week, taking advantage of Tampa Bay’s last ranked secondary that has given up 51 passes of 20 or more yards, the second most in the NFL.
The Buccaneers pass defense will continue to struggle against Denver with cornerback Eric Wright suspended for the next four games after violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Wright became the second Buccaneer cornerback this season to test positive for Adderall and earn a four game suspension. The first was Aqib Talib, who Tampa Bay subsequently traded to New England back in November.
The game begins at 4:05 p.m. EDT and will be shown by FOX, or watch a live stream online by purchasing NFL Sunday Ticket Max.
Betting Odds: Denver is favored by 7.5 points
Over/Under: 50.5 points
Prediction: While their defense is still suspect, the Buccaneers have a proven, high-powered offense. Tampa Bay should score early and put the Broncos in an early hole, but Manning will lead another late charge for the win.
Predicted Score: Denver 31, Tampa Bay 27