ENGLEWOOD — This is not an easy game to figure.
The San Francisco 49ers are exceedingly beatable with their 2-10 record and so many top players long down with injuries.
But the Broncos, while hot with a three-game winning streak, are still only 6-6 and they are also running out of key starters following the injuries to their second-best defensive player, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., and second-best offensive player, receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
These blows to the roster followed season-ending injuries to the Broncos’ top two tight ends (Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt), three starting interior offensive linemen (Matt Paradis, Ron Leary, Max Garcia), the departure through trade of former No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas, and the week-to-week injuries of outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall and cornerback Tramaine Brock.
Will the Broncos have enough remaining talent to beat the weak teams left on their schedule? Sure, it they follow this Klis List of keys:
*Stop 49ers tight end George Kittle
Among the league’s tight ends, Kittle ranks third behind only Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz with 62 catches and 893 yards. The Broncos are hoping to get inside linebacker Brandon Marshall back for their sub packages after he missed the previous four games with bone bruise in his knee.
*Beat the NFL’s highest-paid offensive line
That’s right, the 49ers have spent an NFL-most $49.8 million on their offensive line this year with free-agent center Weston Richburg of Colorado State drawing a whopping $16.7 million, first-round right tackle Mike McGlinchey getting $11.9 million, left tackle stalwart Joe Staley getting $8.7 million and guard Laken Tomlinson getting $6.6 million.
(In contrast, the Broncos’ active offensive line ranks 30th with a $16.8 million payroll).
It won’t be as easy for Broncos’ pass rushers Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris as it was last week against the Bengals.
*Beat ‘em where they’re weak: Turnovers
The 49ers have the league’s worst turnover ratio at -20. Their defense, which has virtually no pass rush outside of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (9.0 sacks), has forced just five takeaways – and only two interceptions. It’s imperative Broncos’ quarterback Case Keenum extend his interception-less streak to five games.
The 49ers’ offense, meanwhile, has committed a league-most 25 turnovers. Nick Mullens, who started his second season on the 49ers practice squad, has thrown five interceptions in his last five games.
*Stay hot, Phillip Lindsay
Any concerns a 5-foot-7, 184-pound rookie would hit the wall late in the season have been waylaid by Lindsay rushing for 110 and 157 yards in his past two games on 8.1 yards per carry. He has become the Broncos' No. 1 offensive player. The question is whether Lindsay is ready for more touches. He’s averaging 13 carries and 2 receptions for 15 touches a game. He needs to get 20 touches, although be careful with the temptation of giving him more than 25.
*Get DaeSean Hamilton and/or Tim Patrick at least five catches
Keep Courtland Sutton in his same role as the team’s deep threat. The key is replacing Emmanuel Sanders from his slot position. Hamilton had 47 snaps last week at Cincinnati but no passing targets. As offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said this week, it’s time “to pay his fee.”
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the smartest minds in the game, but maybe he’ll try too hard against his hometown team that snubbed him for Vance Joseph two years ago.
*Keep Levi's Stadium as the House that Von Rocked
Von Miller loves the Bay Area. The Broncos' best defensive player works out there in the offseason. He won a Super Bowl 50 MVP trophy the last time he played at the 49ers' home stadium. (Miller didn't play in the preseason trip to Santa Clara last year). Bronco fans have traveled well to games in the Pacific Time Zone. This might be another road game where the Broncos enjoy a home feel.