ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On paper, this appears to be Buffalo Bills Varsity against the Denver Broncos Junior Varsity.
And that says nothing about the mismatch that occurred two years ago when the teams met at Empower Field at Mile High in a December varsity regular-season game (48-19 Bills).
Josh Allen and the Bills’ starters are not expected to play long enough here Saturday to similarly run up the score on the back-up Broncos in preseason game No. 2 (out of 3) at Highmark Stadium (11 a.m. kickoff, Channel 20). But the talent advantage figures to be on the home sideline. And it would be, by all prognostications, if the Broncos were playing their starters.
The Bills are the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl this season thanks largely to Allen, the Bills’ quarterback with the otherworldly arm and leg strength. Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said Allen would start while Broncos’ first-year head coach has proclaimed backup veteran Josh Johnson as the preseason starter for a second consecutive game.
“That's the best evaluation you can possibly get,’’ Coach Nathaniel Hackett said when asked about his offensive line taking on the starting Bills but could have been talking about all position groups. “We want to see who can come out there and play versus the best in the league. It's an unbelievable opportunity for those guys to step up and show what they can do.”
Here are 5 goals for the Broncos in their preseason game against the Bills:
1. Stay healthy
This will be the top priority for every preseason game that is meaningless in terms of standings and win-loss record but is an important evaluation measure for the bosses who are two weeks away from picking their season-opening 53-man roster. Hackett is again doing his best to keep his A players healthy by not playing them. But the Broncos are an injury away from having depth problems at several positions.
2. Johnson, Rypien play well
Both Johnson and Brett Rypien had their shining moments in the preseason opener against Dallas last week with Johnson having the better of it. Rypien marched his offense on one drive from his own 1 yard line to the Dallas 3 but couldn’t get it in the end zone. If nothing else, the Broncos need to come away from the preseason feeling confident that if Russell Wilson bangs his hand against a helmet and has to miss a couple of series, the backup QB can come in and move the team.
3. Feed the kids
A big reason why Johnson and Rypien had passing success last week is four young receivers – Seth Williams, Brandon Johnson, Kendall Hinton and Jalen Virgil – made plays for them. The deep left go-route may not be there this week after the Broncos pounded the Cowboys’ secondary with it last week. But a second consecutive satisfying performance from one or more from this group could mean a step or two up on the depth chart.
4. Make it difficult on Josh Allen
He’s capable of shredding the best of defenses, let alone a collection of backups. Still, Allen doesn’t figure to be regular-season sharp in the preseason so Ejiro Evero’s defensive unit should welcome the challenge; not be afraid of it. And several Denver backup defenders like Malik Reed, Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto, Caden Sterns, Michael Ojemudia and Damarri Mathis figure to play plenty during the regular season.
5. Play for work
All 32 NFL teams will have to move 5 players off their rosters by 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Broncos went through the final minute of practice this past Tuesday before reducing their roster from 90 to 85 players. Make it even more difficult for the decision-makers to get the roster down to 80 players next week.
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