INDIANAPOLIS -- I have written this story hundreds of times, with slight variations based on deadline. Covering the Colorado Rockies for 15 consecutive seasons, the story on the road often ended in misery, distinguished only by degrees. Did they avoid a shutout or a sweep? Did their offense deflate or run into an ace pitcher? And how many wins were needed on the next homestand to climb back into contention?
I thought -- hoped -- I had left the conversation of home-road splits at 20th and Blake when I switched beats in 2014. For three seasons, the Broncos proved this correct. In fact, in their Super Bowl season, the Broncos went 6-2 on the road, tying the best mark in franchise history. Road games leave real impressions, and the Broncos that season could win anywhere, anytime against anyone.
Everything is different now.
They are living like too many Rockies teams of the past. Dreams have died on the road. The Broncos own an eight-game overall road losing streak, and are attempting to avoid becoming the third team in franchise history to go winless on the road. It last happened in 1964, pre-NFL merger.
If Denver is unable to triumph tonight, the odds tilt toward indignity. The Broncos are favored. The Colts have lost double-digit games for the first time since 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the season with a neck injury before joining the Broncos. For those going to Lucas Oil Stadium, the roof will be closed. Will that matter? My Denver7 Things to Watch For in Thursday's game:
1) Stick with blueprint
The Broncos used 11 personnel consistently against the Jets. And what do you know, they won the turnover battle. It begs the question of why didn't they do this sooner? Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave designed a game plan similar to the Gary Kubiak offense in which Trevor Siemian excelled at points last season. Stick with that.
2) QB issues
No one believes Siemian will start next season for the Broncos. Finding a quarterback -- preferably a veteran like Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith or Case Keenum -- remains the top priority. But Siemian can show how this team can win by protecting the ball. He is 3-8 on the road, and has lost six straight.
3) Line shuffle
Offensive line issues have plagued the Broncos. They have three core pieces, in my opinion, moving forward: guard Ron Leary, tackle Garett Bolles and center Matt Paradis. I would consider moving Leary to left guard next season and Bolles to right tackle if a veteran left tackle can be landed in free agency. Bolles needs to use the final quarter to learn how to hold without drawing flags. He has been called for 10 penalties, tied for third most in the NFL. Connor McGovern will receive a long look at right guard with Leary (back) sidelined. And can Donald Stephenson prove he's an adequate swing tackle? He played his best game for Denver last Sunday.
4) Sack attack
Von Miller has produced an All-Pro season. The only thing missing is a big sack number. Miller has 10, four off Chandler Jones' league lead. It's realistic to believe Miller can finish with 15, starting with a big night against the Colts, whose tackles have struggled. The Colts offense is predictable and sluggish, ranking 30th in scoring at 16.3 points per game.
5) Walk in the Parks
Will Parks brings an interesting skill set. He is a physical safety who plays with high energy. With Justin Simmons out, this becomes a platform to show more versatility in coverage.
6) It must be the hands
Jordan Taylor can prove he's no longer keeping the seat warm with a strong final four games on punt return. Taylor showed he could be trusted to catch the ball, while netting 62 yards on five attempts. Deliver like this over remaining schedule, and he must be in the mix for the job going forward.
The players delivered a compelling vote of confidence for coach Vance Joseph in the rout of the Jets. The mark of an improving team is the ability to repeat performances. I believe Joseph is on solid ground, but a win Thursday would likely seal it.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 17, Colts 13