DENVER -- A gray sky hung over Empower Field at Mile High Sunday morning, providing an ominous warning.
Lose, and the Broncos' playoff aspirations face Powerball odds. Only four of the last 146 teams to start 0-3 have reached the postseason. That was the Broncos' clear goal after four straight years standing outside the velvet rope of the NFL's biggest party.
Perhaps, it is unrealistic given the injuries to Von Miller (ankle), Courtland Sutton (knee) and quarterback Drew Lock. Of the three, only Lock is certain to return this season, but he still figures to miss three games, if not four.
However, the NFL does not cater to excuses. Everyone gets hurt, some more than others, but the schedule trudges on without mercy. The Broncos caught no breaks by opening up with three likely playoff teams in Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. And trying to register a first win against Tom Brady is no way to live. Here, though, we are.
An upset remains possible because the Broncos are at home with 5,700 fans, the entire town of "South Park," altitude and desperation on their side. My Denver7 keys to victory:
Keep Driskel upright
Jeff Driskel is a fantastic athlete. He should employ more run-pass-option plays, showing his elusiveness. But I don't want to see him running for his life. Tampa Bay has six sacks this season, tied for sixth best. If Elijah Wilkinson struggles at right tackle again, it's time to move on to Demar Dotson, a former Tampa stalwart. He might be a liability in the run game, but he showed he could still pass block in training camp.
Find creative niche
The Broncos will need to help Wilkinson with a tight end on his side. That should mean more snaps for Jake Butt and Andrew Beck. It could also create mismatches for Noah Fant in those sets. And if the Broncos can run with this personnel, it will give Driskel a chance at two-to-three deep strikes through play action. He's not terribly accurate, but he does throw a beautiful deep ball.
Pressure Tom Brady
The key in disrupting Tom Brady remains pressure up the middle. He's one of the last remaining true pocket passers. When he steps up, he needs to be uncomfortable. Maybe that's on only five to seven attempts. Whatever, he must feel the heat, and rush a throw or two. Brady is still trying to figure out the timing with his new receivers, so anything to disrupt his steps will help the Broncos. There's also this: he has not played well vs Broncos, going 8-9 overall and 4-7 in Denver.
Stop the run
This is not New England. Make them one dimensional, and Brady would just dink and dunk with alarming efficiency. Tampa isn't built like that. At least not yet. The Broncos must thwart Leonard Fournette. He gashed the Broncos for 225 yards on 29 carries last season while with Jacksonville. Denver has allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers. That must change today.
Melvin Gordon has played well in Phillip Lindsay's absence. Lindsay will likely return Thursday against the Jets. Gordon is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. That works -- and is a reminder of why he should have been used more on Denver's final drive last week. Get Gordon going, and don't be afraid to lean on him in third-and-short and in the passing game.
Need for Speed
Rookie slot receiver K.J. Hamler showed unique speed and toughness in his debut. With Jerry Jeudy nursing sore ribs, the Broncos must look for favorable matchups for Hamler. He is capable of posting a 100-yard game on four catches with his breathtaking quickness. Put him in the slot, and use him on quick strikes.
Finish the drill
The Broncos have turned losing games into an art form. Even when they play well defensively, they find ways to spray graffiti on the painting with a breakdown or misstep. There is no margin for error left from the coaches or the players. The Broncos are in this position because of coach Vic Fangio's poor clock management in the opener, ill-timed gaffes and devastating injuries. Denver has shown resilience, but it rings hollow without results. Hopefully, they prove me wrong.
RENCK PREDICTION: Buccaneers 24, Broncos 20
It’s a season of big sports events airing this fall on Denver7. Check out our upcoming schedule:
- Sept. 29: MLB Wild Card Series
- Sept. 30: MLB Wild Card Series
- Sept. 30: NBA Finals Game 1 on Denver7
- Oct. 1: Broncos vs Jets on Denver7
- Oct. 1: MLB Wild Card Series (If needed)
- Oct. 2: NBA Finals Game 2 on Denver7
- Oct. 4: NBA Finals Game 3 on Denver7
- Oct. 6: NBA Finals Game 4 on Denver7
- Oct. 9: NBA Finals Game 5 on Denver7
- Oct. 11: NBA Finals Game 6 on Denver7
- Oct. 13: NBA Finals Game 7 on Denver7