ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is a matchup that has it all, from alpha quarterbacks to top-tier defenses to go with a little slice of history: It is just the fourth time two teams with records of 6-0 or better have met in a season.
The pass rush. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is unlike anybody the Broncos’ defense has faced this year on the way to a league-leading 26 sacks in six games. Rodgers is mobile, smart and has the power arm to make a throw to any part of the field, even on the move. The Broncos have to keep him hemmed in, and this Broncos defense can create pressure in four-man rush packages, which allows Denver to affect plays while still dropping seven players into coverage. And that has separated this group from many before with the team. The Broncos have 14 sacks, forced three interceptions and forced two fumbles this season in their four-man pressure packages.
Home field. With seats on the 50-yard line going for four-digit prices this week from online ticket brokers, this will be the ultimate test of discipline for the Broncos' ticket-holders, who must struggle between seeing their beloved team play -- the Broncos’ current sellout streak dates to 1970 -- or making enough cash for a new living room TV set. Noise will be a factor and if the game is close, the Broncos’ pass-rushers should be aided by the home crowd. Toss in a little altitude and the Broncos are 24-2 in regular-season home games in quarterback Peyton Manning’s time with the team.
Lockdown corners. The Broncos have the ability to take their top three cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby -- and play man-to-man against any receiver, anywhere on the field. It gives the Broncos plenty of options in how they disperse their resources on defense. No quarterback has topped 300 yards passing and one receiver -- Cleveland’s Travis Benjamin -- has topped 100 yards this season. The Broncos' defensive backs also have scored four touchdowns this season, two by Talib, one by Harris and one by Roby. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has said Talib and Harris represent the best cornerback tandem "I’ve ever had." That’s almost four decades' worth of NFL coaching talking. Get in third-and-long against Denver and the Broncos go to their dime package -- six defensive backs -- where they are decidedly in charge because Phillips can bring pressure from anywhere in the formation and still cover people in the secondary.
More Ronnie Hillman. Hillman, as he has been for much of his career, is a wild card in this one. He has two 100-yard rushing efforts in the past three games and coach Gary Kubiak has said Hillman deserves more playing time and carries because of it. And Hillman’s speed and explosiveness is exactly what the Broncos need in a game like this one. Yards are going to be difficult to come by, as will touchdowns (the Packers lead the league in scoring defense) and the threat to turn what looks to be a small gain into a big one can always tip the scales. But the Broncos have been waiting for Hillman to show consistency for much of his career. This would be a big step for him to deliver on a big stage. In the end, if Hillman and C.J. Anderson can’t power a productive run game for the Broncos, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will send the rushers after Manning.
Party like it's 1997. This will not be just some other night game for the Broncos organization. Owner Pat Bowlen, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease, is being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame and more than 40 players and coaches from the Broncos’ 1997 Super Bowl-winning team will be in attendance and honored as well. It means a lot to all of the people who work in the team’s complex. Even players who did not play for the team when Bowlen was still going to the office every day understand it. That includes Manning, who called it "a special weekend."