MEADOWLANDS, N.J. -- Season openers bring unique challenges. None of the players has worked together for four quarters. Conditioning remains an issue, complicated by heat and humidity. And the emotion will be heavy and heartfelt.
Sunday at 2:25 p.m., the Broncos pull the curtain on 2021 at MetLife Stadium where there will be poignant tributes to 9/11 on the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
In the days and months that followed, sports helped bring a sense of normalcy and unity.
“It will be a special moment for sure. I love New York City. To me it’s the greatest city in world. I am excited and honored to be part of it. Football is America’s Game,” Broncos kicker Brandon McManus told Denver7.
“To be there for the 20th anniversary will be a special moment. Hopefully, not only the Broncos, but the Giants will honor everybody with their play. I am excited to have fans back for a moment like that. It will be truly special.”
As openers go, few have been more anticipated for the Broncos in recent years. Denver aims to recapture relevance after its promising preseason. And it starts with stopping an eight-game September losing streak, including seven under coach Vic Fangio.
My Denver7 keys to a Broncos win:
GET THE DARN BALL
The Broncos boast a defense that should finish in the Top 5. To reach those lofty expectations, the group needs help from the offense – a lead would be a welcomed novelty – allowing them run on nitromethane. It’s all about takeaways. The Broncos believe they can net two a game, doubling their amount from the past seasons.
KEEPING UP WITH MR. JONES
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is talented, but sits at the crossroad of Potential and Backup Avenues. He is more philanthropic than Bruce Wayne. He has totaled a combined 51 interceptions and fumbles the past two seasons. Unleash Von Miller. And if Bradley Chubb (ankle) plays, let him cause havoc. Give snaps to Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper with simple instructions: Get to the QB and get him to the ground against a leaky offensive line.
SLOW THE RUN
The Giants are built to run the ball well with star Saquon Barkley. But he’s only 11 months removed from ACL surgery, so a full workload remains unlikely. He could be more of a decoy, aiding the Broncos. Making New York one dimensional will create a pathway to make Jones miserable and turnover prone.
WIN UP FRONT
Left guard Dalton Risner told Denver7 that the “preseason doesn’t matter. It’s about what we do now.” He's right. It's time for the Broncos to get tough. The Broncos fashion themselves a running team. They want a physical identity. The Giants present a challenge, starting with smothering tackle Leonard Williams. New York ranked 10th in rush defense last year, allowing 111.4 yards per game. Can the Broncos interior linemen hold their own? And will offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur stay patient even with small gains to open up play action in the second half? He needs to.
TEDDY TO JEUDY, MARK IT DOWN
Teddy Bridgewater is the first black quarterback to start the opener for the Broncos. He hopes to inspire others with his play. Bridgewater is calmer than a lagoon and smart. It’s why he leaned on Jerry Jeudy early this offseason. He cannot forget that. If the Giants decide to use James Bradberry on Courtland Sutton, there will be openings for Jeudy, who is better in space than NASA. Teddy to Jeudy will be a thing if the Broncos win this game.
Openers present adversity. There will be non-scouted looks and bubbling emotions. Bridgewater must lean on his experience to serve as the bridge over troubled water. The Broncos failed to score a touchdown on the first possession of any game last season. They totaled just nine points on those drives, which is why they ranked 29th in first-quarter points. No more excuses. The offense has ripening talent. The group must be functional, must make a lead possible. And the special teams must be swarmy not awful or ordinary. Why? The Broncos are 1-15 when trailing at halftime under Fangio.
FLYING COACH NO MORE
Fangio is a genius defensively. No one questions his schemes. But he needs to write in neon, use exotic looks, employ the secondary with evil intentions, including rookie Pat Surtain II, to create turnovers. And Fangio cannot afford any issues with clock management or too narrow vision on the defense. He has to coach the whole team, and use the new analytics advisor to avoid clock management mistakes that led to a loss in the season opener last season. No more ifs and buts. It is time, as Fangio said, to give Broncos Country a team they can be proud of again.
TROY’S PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Giants 19.