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Getting to know the Denver Broncos

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the Denver Broncos were making aggressive personnel moves this offseason, they had the New England Patriots in mind.

"You always know you have to go through New England," Broncos executive vice president John Elway said at the time. "If you look at their track record the last 10 years, they're a team you're going to have to be able to deal with, and for us to get done what we want to get done, you've got to be able to beat them. It's kind of a fun type of arms race, and we'll see what happens."

Similar to New England, the bar has been raised high in Denver. Anything short of a Super Bowl championship seems like it would be a disappointment.

The Broncos are widely viewed as the NFL's top team, their lone loss a 26-20 overtime setback at Seattle on Sept. 21. They've played five of their first seven games at home, and a frigid forecast could await them in Foxborough.

For more, below is our weekly primer.

Record: 6-1

Head coach: John Fox (4th year)

Offensive coordinator: Adam Gase

Defensive coordinator: Jack Del Rio

Special teams: Jeff Rodgers

General manager: John Elway (executive vice president)

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE

1. TE Julius Thomas. The fourth-year pro out of the Portland State has nine touchdown receptions this season and has emerged as one of the NFL's most productive pass-catching tight ends. He played basketball at Portland State before going out for the football team in 2010, playing just one season before entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft choice by the Broncos. His first two years in the NFL were marked more by injuries than production, but things have turned around for him quickly.

2. RB Ronnie Hillman. A 2012 third-round draft choice out of San Diego State, he has emerged as Denver's top ball-carrier and brings an element of speed to the position that hasn't been there in recent years. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Hillman is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has a 37-yard touchdown run this season.

3. WR Emmanuel Sanders. After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Steelers, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Sanders is having a breakout year after signing a three-year contract with the Broncos in the offseason. He has 47 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns, which has him on pace to shatter his previous career high -- 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns, set last season in Pittsburgh.

THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE

1. DT Terrance Knighton. Patriots followers need no introduction to the big-bodied defender nicknamed Pot Roast after he feasted on New England's interior offensive line in the AFC Championship game last season. The 6-foot-3, 331-pound Knighton is a tough player to block, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and is now in his sixth NFL season out of Temple.

2. DEs DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Ware signed with the Broncos as a free agent this offseason after spending nine years with the Cowboys and has seven sacks in seven games. He teams up with the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller, who has nine sacks in seven games, to form one of the NFL's most formidable defensive-end tandems.

3. CB Aqib Talib. When healthy, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Talib is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks and also brings an attitude to both the field and locker room. He was well-liked by many of his teammates in New England and cashed in with a big free-agent deal in Denver this offseason.

EXTRA POINTS: They've turned their kicking duties over to first-year player Brandon McManus (Temple), but haven't been in too many tight games where he's had to make the pressure kick. He's 6-of-8 on field-goal attempts this season. ... Safety T.J. Ward, the former Cleveland Brown who signed a big free-agent deal with Denver in March, trained with Patriots receiver Julian Edelman in the offseason. ... Receiver Wes Welker has played 249 of 351 offensive snaps in four games this season and has 19 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. ... Receiver Demaryius Thomas is tied with Sanders for the team lead with 47 catches. ... Punter Britton Colquitt doesn't have a touchback this season, with 14 of his 36 attempts landing inside the 20. ... Denver has started fast, allowing just 19 first-quarter points all season.