With each facing difficult division races near the midway point of the season, the Denver Broncos (4-1) host the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Depending on how the afternoon’s games play out, both Denver and San Francisco could be vying for first place in their respective divisions. The Broncos are one win behind AFC West-leading San Diego, but that’s due to their early bye week. The 49ers have ripped off three straight wins for second place in the NFC West behind Arizona, who took control of the division with a 23-14 victory back in Week 3.
San Francisco has the chance to snag first before its bye week, but will be forced to contain quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos high-scoring offense without key defensive players.
Overall the 49ers are quite banged up, but have still been able to perform well. Thirteen players litter San Francisco’s injury report this week, with defensive backs Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward all listed as questionable. Starting linebacker Patrick Willis has been ruled out with a toe injury, on top of inside linebacker NaVarro Bowman still on the physically unable to perform list.
Still San Francisco is fielding the No. 2 pass and No. 5 rushing defenses in the NFL, and have team sack leaders in linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive end Justin Smith to pressure Manning. Smith and Brooks each have 3.o sacks this season, but the Denver offensive line has only given up six.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Colin Kaepernick has found his midseason groove, throwing six touchdowns to one pick during the winning streak, including three in last week’s 31-17 drubbing of St. Louis.
Denver isn’t nearly as banged up as San Francisco, though No. 1 running back Montee Ball has been ruled out for the second straight game with a groin injury. The Broncos have tabbed third-year back Ronnie Hillman, who exploded for 100 yards in last week’s 31-17 road win over the N.Y. Jets.
Adding a young rusher capable of busting out for major yardage only makes Manning more dangerous, and puts more pressure on San Francisco’s defensive line. Manning has continued to roll as one of the game’s premier quarterbacks, totaling 15 touchdown passes, and top receiver Demaryius Thomas broke out of a poor start with 18 receptions for 250 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.
The 49ers will also keep tabs on Denver tight end Julius Thomas. The fourth-year star has caught a touchdown in every game this season, totaling nine, and is well on pace to shatter the single-season touchdown record for a tight end.
Start Time: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online Stream: NBC’s SNF All Access can be found here
Betting Odds: Denver -6.5
Over/Under: 49.5 points
Prediction: Denver over San Francisco, 27-20