Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 13, 2017 at 10:30 AM
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DENVER BRONCOS (4-9) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, Lucas Oil Stadium, TV: NBC, NFLN, Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox (field reporter)

SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 13-10. Colts have won six of the last eight and eight of the last 12. Denver, however, won the last regular-season meeting, taking a 34-20 home-field victory on Sept. 18, 2016. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 11, 2015, when the Colts stunned the Broncos 24-13 in the AFC divisional playoffs in what proved to be John Fox's last game as Broncos head coach.

KEYS TO THE GAME: For the Broncos, it's simple: Play within themselves, don't turn the ball over and force the Colts to make plays to beat them. Denver extended its streak of wins in games in which it has won the turnover battle to 32; it is the league's longest active streak, 15 games better than Houston's current streak of 17 wins when having a positive turnover margin. Jacoby Brissett's high sack rate plays into the Broncos' hands if they can force the Colts into this sort of game; if Brissett is uncomfortable and forced to make plays because the Colts are behind, Denver can crank up the pressure and potentially extend its lead.

The Colts can't keep relying on field goals to get the job done in the red zone. Not being able to finish drives with touchdowns continues to be a problem. Converting on third down and keeping drives alive are also issues.

Defensively, forcing turnovers and making plays in key situations has gotten better in the latter half of the year. But it needs to continue to improve over the final three weeks of the regular season. Finding a consistent pass rush and getting off the field on third down will be crucial against Denver.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Broncos OLB Von Miller vs. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett. Miller sealed the sixth double-digit sack season of his career last Sunday; he has posted at least 10 sacks in every season in which he has played at least 10 games, and appears to be headed for his sixth Pro Bowl. Brissett has been sacked more often than any other quarterback this year -- 48 times, nine more than anyone else in the NFL.

--Broncos CBs Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby vs. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton. Indianapolis will likely try to force matchups that put Hilton into position where he's facing Roby rather than Talib and Harris, who are two of the least-frequently targeted cornerbacks in football relative to number of snaps played, according to Pro Football Focus. The Broncos will need to respond by keeping Harris and Talib on Hilton, who represents the Colts' best threat of discombobulating Denver's defense.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos DE Shelby Harris. He replaced the injured Derek Wolfe in the starting lineup in recent weeks and continued his strong rotational work in an increased role. Harris notched a first-quarter sack of Josh McCown in the 23-0 win over the Jets last Sunday and has maximized his limited opportunities this season. Harris had a blocked field goal on the last play of regulation to clinch the Broncos' Week 1 win over the Chargers and has posted 4.5 sacks this season, second on the team behind Von Miller.

FAST FACTS: Denver QB Trevor Siemian has 90+ rating in 2 of past 3. Passed for 266 yards in last meeting. Aims for 3rd in row on Thursday with TD pass. RB C.J. Anderson has 183 scrimmage yards (91.5 per game) in past 2. Had 93 scrimmage yards (74 rush, 19 rec.) with rush TD in last meeting. In past 2 on Thursday, has 210 scrimmage yards (105 per game) with 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.). WR Demaryius Thomas had 90 rec. yards in last meeting. Had 8 catches for 93 yards & TD last week. Has 4 TDs in past 6. Since 2012, ranks 2nd in NFL with 560 catches & 3rd with 7,641 rec. yards. LB Brandon Marshall had 3 TFL, sack & FF in Week 14. Has 9+ tackles in 2 of past 3 vs. Ind. ... Indianapolis QB Jacoby Brissett had TD pass last week. Has 3 rush TDs in past 5 at home. Rushed for TD & won only career start on Thursday (9/22/16 with NE). RB FRANK GORE had season-high 130 rush yards in Week 14. Has 42 100+ rush yard games in career, 2nd most among active players (ADRIAN PETERSON, 51). Has 100+ scrimmage yards in 3 of past 5 vs. Den. Aims for 3rd meeting in row with TD. Needs 59 scrimmage yards to become 2nd player in NFL history with 12+ consecutive seasons with 1,000+ scrimmage yards (HOFer EMMITT SMITH, 13). WR T.Y. Hilton has 365 rec. yards (121.7 per game) & TD in past 3 on Thursday. Since 2013, ranks 4th in NFL with 5,811 rec. yards. Has 11 25+ yard catches in 2017, 5th most in AFC. TE Jack Doyle had TD in Week 14. Had rec. TD in last home meeting. Ranks 2nd among NFL TEs with 64 catches. Since 2016, is 1 of 6 NFL TEs with 120+ catches (123). CB Darius Butler aims for 3rd meeting in row with INT.

PREDICTION: The Colts are recovering from their snow game in Buffalo and have a short week to prepare for the Denver defense, which pitched a shutout over the Jets Sunday, snapping an eight-game losing streak. The Broncos are 0-6 on the road, but they will find a way to get their first as long as quarterback Trevor Siemian protects the football.

OUR PICK: Broncos, 20-6

--Howard Balzer

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