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Preseason power rankings No. 3: Denver Broncos

John Elway, John Fox AP

Can Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl?

That is the question people ask when they talk about these Denver Broncos. John Elway, John Fox and the rest of the decision makers in Denver answer that question with an emphatic yes, and they’ve made it clear that they’re putting all their chips on the table and trying to win a championship now: Not only have the Broncos given Manning a good corps of receivers, but the Broncos also invested heavily in veteran free agents on defense this offseason, most notably DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. The plan in Denver is try to win another title while Manning is still on top, and worry about the potential consequences of having a lot of expensive aging veterans on the roster later.

That’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense, but it’s also a strategy that has the potential to blow up in the Broncos’ faces, if Manning and some of the other veterans on the roster begin to show their age more quickly than the Broncos are expecting. Still, the Broncos enter this season looking like the best team in the AFC.


Obviously, it begins with Peyton Manning, the reigning MVP of the NFL, who’s coming off perhaps the greatest season any NFL player has ever had. As long as Manning is healthy, the Broncos will have a great passing offense.

But it goes beyond Manning. If left tackle Ryan Clady is back to form and healthy for 16 games, the offensive line should be better than it was last year, when Clady was lost for the season in Week Two. And the receiving corps, featuring Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker along with new arrivals Emmanuel Sanders and second-round draft pick Cody Latimer, could be better too. And don’t forget that tight end Julius Thomas, who burst onto the scene last year, is still relatively inexperienced and may keep getting better this year.

The Broncos’ run defense was solid last year (stopping Seattle’s running backs was about the only thing the Broncos did well in the Super Bowl), and it could be better this year as well. The Broncos liked the way 2013 first-round draft pick Sylvester Williams played late last year at defensive tackle, and this year there’s every reason to expect a strong second season.


Last year the Broncos’ most significant weakness was their pass defense, which is why the pass defense was the top priority in free agency. Can DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward turn that pass defense into a strength? If so, the 2014 Broncos may be even better than the 2013 Broncos. If not, they’re going to need the offense to win a lot of shootouts. The wild card is the return of Von Miller, who was suspended for the first six games of last season and then missed the playoffs with a torn ACL. If Miller is healthy for 16 games and as good a pass rusher as he was in 2012, then maybe we’ll need to list the Broncos’ pass defense under “strengths.”

Middle linebacker Nate Irving could turn out to be a weakness in the Broncos’ defense if he can’t prove he’s ready to handle the starting job on a full-time basis. Wesley Woodyard departed in free agency, and Denver needs Irving to be ready to handle the responsibilities that Woodyard handled last year.

Special teams may turn out to be a weakness for the Broncos as well. Last year they struggled covering kicks (although that was partially masked by the fact that it’s easy to boot the ball into the end zone for a touchback in Denver), and the Broncos still have no idea who will return punts and kickoffs for them.


Champ Bailey has meant a lot to this franchise for the last 10 seasons, and it will look a little strange to watch the Broncos’ defense and not see Bailey. But adding both veteran Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby should change the cornerback position for the better.

Eric Decker is also a significant loss at wide receiver, but that may again be a position where the net result of the changes is an improvement. Emmanuel Sanders is an accomplished veteran, and Cody Latimer is a talented rookie. Denver’s front office did a good job of compensating for the departure of Decker.

Position battles.

The No. 1 cornerback is Aqib Talib, but after that there’s plenty of competition at the cornerback position. First-round draft pick Bradley Roby has a good shot at being the No. 2 cornerback, but if Chris Harris is completely healthy (he said in June that he’s 85 percent recovered from a torn ACL), then Harris may beat out Roby to start opposite Talib. Kayvon Webster, a 2013 third-round pick, is also in the mix and will compete to be the Broncos’ nickel corner.

Another interesting competition will take place at right tackle, where Chris Clark currently looks like the favorite. Clark stepped in for injured left tackle Ryan Clady last year and performed well enough that it would seem likely that Clark will remain a starter now that Clady is back on the left side. However, veteran Winston Justice will get a shot at beating out Clark in training camp, and so will rookie third-round pick Michael Schofield.

The backup running back position behind starter Montee Ball appears to be Ronnie Hillman’s to lose, but it wouldn’t be a shock if Hillman does, in fact, lose that battle. C.J. Anderson looked good in limited work last year, and the Broncos really like a couple of undrafted rookies, Juwan Thompson and Brennan Clay. Ultimately, the second-string running back in Denver will probably the running back who proves himself the best pass protector in training camp and the preseason, as protecting Peyton Manning is the most important priority in Denver’s offense.

The most interesting camp competition of all may be for the return job, where the departure of Trindon Holliday in free agency leaves things wide open. On punt returns, Wes Welker is the most experienced man for the job, but given Welker’s age and concerns about whether he’ll stay healthy for 16 games, it seems unlikely that Welker will be the regular punt returner this season. Instead, the Broncos will likely give a number of young and athletic players a shot at earning a roster spot by returning punts. Isaiah Burse, an undrafted free agent receiver, was a good return man at Fresno State and may be the best bet to end up winning the punt return job. Burse can also return kickoffs, and he’ll likely compete with veterans Andre Caldwell and Omar Bolden for that job.


The bottom line for the Broncos? First of all, they still look like the best team in the AFC. And secondly, no one in Denver will be satisfied with just being the best team in the AFC.

It’s a “Super Bowl or bust” year for the Broncos, and that means winning the Super Bowl, not just getting there. If the offense is as good as last year and the defense is better, the Broncos have a real chance of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But with the Super Bowl debacle fresh in our minds, it’s hard to argue that the Broncos are the best team in the NFL.

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Jaguars owner Shad Khan says no coaching change for Jaguars

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 27:  Head coach Gus Bradley watches from the sideline during a game against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium on October 27, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan met with coaches and players this week in an attempt to figure out just why his team was not winning more football games.

The Jaguars responded with an absolute dud Thursday night in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Jacksonville fell behind 27-0 in the first half. Dante Fowler Jr. picked up a personal foul for a pseudo punch to an Titans player just four days after Mailk Jackson (personal foul accumulation) and Jalen Ramsey (fighting) were ejected against Oakland.

Head coach Gus Bradley is now 14-41 during his tenure in Jacksonville. With 10 days before the Jaguars have to play again, the question is whether Khan would look to make a change at head coach.

According to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, Khan said there will not be a coaching change following Thursday night’s 36-22 loss.

However, Khan also said “actions speak louder than words. Very little for me to say.”

Unless something drastic changes, Bradley’s time in Jacksonville would seem to be running short. Changing coaches in season likely won’t do anything significant and a real change won’t realistically be possible until January at the earliest. But having your previous head coach, Mike Mularkey, hand your team a beat down like the Jaguars experienced Thursday night can’t sit well with Khan.

There’s enough talent on the roster now that Jacksonville should be beyond these types of performances. If they can’t make a change with Bradley at the helm, they’ll probably be making changes without him in the near future.

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Russell Wilson expecting to play against Saints despite pectoral injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks throws a pass during the second half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks tied 6-6.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has sustained three separate injuries in the first six games of the regular season. Just like the previous two, Wilson doesn’t expect his newest ailment from keeping him out of the lineup.

Wilson has been a limited participant in practice the last two days for Seattle after suffering a right pectoral injury in last week’s tie with the Arizona Cardinals. That injury is in addition to a high-ankle sprain from Week 1 and a sprained MCL in Week 3. Nevertheless, Wilson expects to be starting as usual Sunday in New Orleans.

“It’s a little sore but I think we’ll be fine and get over it and just continue to rehab at the highest level as much as I can,” Wilson said on Thursday.

“It’s not crazy bad or anything like that, just treat it as much as I can, try to be smart this week.”

The injury has forced Wilson to be limited in a practice for the first time in his five-year career. The knee injury remains on the injury report as well. Wilson said that he was initially told that injury would keep him out for four weeks.

“I’ve had a pretty relatively serious injury with my knee,” Wilson said. “They told me I wasn’t supposed to play for four weeks, maybe longer. You just overcome it. I’d be lying to you if I said my mobility was 100 percent but I feel really good right now.”

Wilson is just coming out of that four-week window now. He sustained the knee injury on Sept. 25 and was never limited or absent from a practice due to the injury. Wilson joked that at least his ankle is no longer listed on the injury report.

“I’m just trying to be smart when I’m throwing,” he said. “I can definitely throw it if I needed to, hard or whatever if I needed to. It’s just trying to pace it out. Like I said, I’m not playing until Sunday, so that’s a good thing.”

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Jaguars offer little defense as Titans roll to victory

Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) beats Jacksonville Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien (37) to the end zone as Murray scores a touchdown on a 14-yard run in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) AP

The Jaguars were awful Thursday night. The Titans simply lined up and ran right past them.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a couple touchdown passes, too. The Titans thoroughly dominated on both sides and won, 36-22, picking up a much-needed victory to get back to .500 on the season.

It was 27-0 at halftime.

It’s fair to wonder if Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who’s now 14-41, will still be employed this weekend. Near the midway point of the second quarter, the Jaguars had 29 total yards and 50 penalty yards.

At halftime, the Titans had 354 yards and the Jaguars had 60. Two of the Jaguars’ touchdowns came in the final four minutes of fourth quarter, long after the game had been decided.

The Titans rolled up 25 first downs, 20 in the first half, and converted nine of their first 13 third-down chances.

Titans running back DeMarco Murray ran for 123 yards and a touchdown. He gave the Titans a brief scare when he went to the locker room with a foot injury late in the first half but returned for the third quarter. He wasn’t needed for the fourth.

Mariota’s touchdown passes went to Kendall Wright and Rishard Matthews. Mariota was 18-of-22 passing for 270 yards. The Titans also rushed for 214 yards.

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw three touchdown passes in the second half. He did what he’s often done, ending up with 337 passing yards while playing from behind after a horrendous start. Bortles tied a franchise record with 54 passing attempts.

The Titans improve to 4-4 and are at the Chargers on Nov. 6. The Jaguars are 2-5 and are at the Chiefs on Nov. 6

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Murray returns, Titans score again

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) scrambles away from Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, left, in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney) AP

Titans running back DeMarco Murray returned to Thursday night’s game in the second half.

He left the field late in the second quarter with a foot injury. Murray went over 100 yards rushing on the night early in the third quarter.

The Jaguars haven’t put up much of a fight, but they did drive 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening series of the second half. The Jaguars had 60 total yards in the first half; the Titans had 354.

Marcus Mariota’s second touchdown pass of the night made it 33-8 a little over midway through the third quarter.

The Jaguars scored on a touchdown pass from Blake Bortles to tight end Julius Thomas. They got six first downs on the touchdown drive after having three first downs in the entire first half.

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Titans rolling, but DeMarco Murray leaves game

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) hands the ball to running back DeMarco Murray (29) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Fla.(AP Photo/Joel Auerbach) AP

Titans running back DeMarco Murray left Thursday night’s game late in the second quarter with an injury.

Murray walked to the locker room. The Titans announced that he has a foot injury, but he returned for the second half.

The Titans are steamrolling the Jaguars, 27-0, at halftime. The Titans have 20 first downs and the Jaguars have run 22 plays and have 60 yards.

Rookie Derrick Henry, who already has a touchdown run, will take over as the primary running back. Murray has 13 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Murray came into the game ranking third in the NFL with 633 rushing yards on the season.

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Titans steamrolling listless Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, left, passes as he is pressured by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, center, and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney) AP

The Titans are completely embarrassing the Jaguars.

It’s 24-0 just past the midway point of the second quarter. Through four offensive possessions, the Jaguars had 29 offensive yards and 50 penalty yards.

Both DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry have rushing touchdowns against an overmatched Jaguars defense. On the Murray touchdown, Murray reversed his field and quarterback Marcus Mariota was out in front and threw a lead block.

Mariota also threw a touchdown pass to Kendall Wright.

Murray has 62 yards on his first 10 carries. At this rate, he’ll be a spectator in the second half.

The Jags have played with little direction or discipline in the early going.

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Jaguars struggling early, trail 17-0

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans throws a pss during the game against the Indianapolis Colts  at LP Field on September 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Getty Images

It’s not been pretty for the Jaguars early in Thursday’s game at Tennessee.

The Jaguars have punted on their first four possessions and have managed just 29 total yards. They have 50 yards in penalties a little short of midway through the second quarter.

Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley, who was 14-40 coming into the game, isn’t having much fun on the sideline.

The Titans have a 17-0 lead after a rushing touchdown by Derrick Henry. The Titans made it 10-0 when Marcus Mariota threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright early in the second quarter.

It looked like a blown coverage as Wright turned his route up the field and just kept running into open space before Mariota lofted the ball to him.

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Ramsey’s penalty helps Titans score first

#20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Field on September 25, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Titans are on the board first in what few expect to be a classic Thursday night game.

Ryan Succop’s 32-yard field goal opened the scoring and capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive.

The field goal drive got a boost from an inexcusable penalty on Jaguars rookie defensive back Jalen Ramsey on a pass that fell incomplete. Titans tight end Phillip Supernaw was standing out of bounds when Ramsey hit him with a shoulder.

The Jaguars took Ramsey out of the game after the hit on Supernaw but he soon returned. Ramsey was ejected from last week’s game for fighting.

The Jaguars have punted on their first two drives.

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Whitworth makes the trip to London, hopes to play Sunday

Cincinnati Bengals v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth returned to practice Thursday and made the trip to London with his teammates for Sunday’s game vs. the Redskins.

Whitworth suffered a concussion in last week’s game vs. the Browns. He did not practice Wednesday but was listed as a limited participant Thursday and told reporters he’s hoping to play Sunday.

Whitworth has only missed two games since taking over as the Bengals’ left tackle in 2009.

The Bengals left for London after practice Thursday and were scheduled to arrive there Friday morning.

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Julius Thomas, Tajae Sharpe active

Julius Thomas AP

Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas is active and in the starting lineup for Thursday night’s game at Tennessee.

Thomas had been listed as questionable and limited during the short practice week with an ankle injury. Defensive end Jared Odrick, also listed as questionable with a quad injury, is inactive.

Thomas caught a touchdown pass in both of the Jaguars’ games vs. the Titans last year. This year, he has 16 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

Titans rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe will play. He had been listed as questionable with a knee injury and the Titans held off on any decision about his status until Sharpe tested the knee in a pregame workout.

Titans rookie outside linebacker Kevin Dodd and starting safety Rashad Johnson are inactive. Both had been listed as questionable. The Titans previously announced that Brian Schwenke would start at left guard in place of Quinton Spain.

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Ankle injury likely to keep Mangold out Sunday

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

Jets Coach Todd Bowles told reporters Thursday “it doesn’t look good right now” for center Nick Mangold’s chances of playing Sunday at Cleveland.

Mangold has missed both of the team’s practices this week and was wearing a protective boot on his injured ankle Thursday. Bowles stopped short of declaring Mangold out, saying he needed another day before making any kind of official declaration.

Mangold has only missed four games in his 11-year career. The Jets list Wesley Johnson as their backup center on their unofficial depth chart.

Bowles has already ruled out rookie linebacker Darron Lee, right tackle Brent Qvalue and linebacker Bruce Carter. After missing last week’s game, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was back at practice Thursday.

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Get ready for Week Eight with the PA and Florio podcast


It’s one of the hottest new podcasts, despite my involvement in it. It’s the PA and Florio podcast, a weekly look at the NFL featuring the voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen, and yours truly.

Episode 2, focusing on Week Eight of the NFL season, is available in various online locations, including iTunes and audioBoom.

Download it or, for faster weekly delivery, subscribe. Also, leave a comment that weaves in one of Paul’s various catch phrases, including “this is not Detroit,” “he’s loooooose,” and/or whatever he said when Blair Walsh missed the field goal against Seattle.

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49ers release Ian Williams from non-football injury list

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 21:  Nose tackle Ian Williams #93 of the San Francisco 49ers walks onto the feild prior to the start of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the 49ers 23-14.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Shortly after free agency opened in March, the 49ers and defensive tackle Ian Williams agreed to a deal that would keep Williams with the team for five years.

Williams’ history of ankle injuries and surgeries led to his failure to pass a physical with the team, however, and the deal was scrapped in favor of a one-year pact. Williams never made it onto the field with the team this season as he landed on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp and now his time with the team has come to an end.

The league’s daily transaction wire brings word that the 49ers have released Williams from the NFI list with an injury settlement. The move leaves Williams free to sign with any other team, although the same health concerns that scuttled his deal with the 49ers may remain a stumbling block.

Williams started all 16 games for the 49ers in 2015 and played in 15 other games with them between 2011 and 2015.

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Vikings, Brad Childress: No truth to Artis Hicks’ bounty allegation

EDEN PRAIRIE, MN - OCTOBER 7:  Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress answers questions from the media during a press conference at Winter Park on October 7, 2010 in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Getty Images

In an interview for a biography about Brett Favre, former Vikings offensive lineman Artis Hicks told author Jeff Pearlman that coaches on the Vikings had a bounty program similar to the one that landed Saints coach Sean Payton, current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and others suspensions from the NFL after the 2009 season.

Hicks alleged the Vikings, who faced the Saints in that year’s NFC title game and saw Favre get battered over the course of the contest, had their program in place that year as well. Linebacker Ben Leber was also on that team and said he was unaware of such activities as did defensive end Bryan Robison, adding that he thought Hicks was “trying to bring attention” to himself.

The Vikings released a brief statement on Thursday — “There is no truth to it” — and then-Vikings coach Brad Childress, who testified in the Bountygate appeals hearing, also added his own denial.

“I had a great opportunity to coach a lot of great people there, including Artis Hicks, at the Minnesota Vikings,” Childress said, via “I have too much respect for the Wilf family [and] professional football to have anything to do with a bounty system. I’m going to let it stand at that.”

There’s been no word from the NFL about plans to look into Hicks’ comments. The league’s suspensions of Payton, Williams and other coaches from the Saints stood, but four players suspended by the league had the penalties overturned in an appeal heard by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

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Packers release Abbrederis with injury settlement

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis #84 of the Green Bay Packers brings in a 15-yard pass against safety Charles Woodson #24 of the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter on December 20, 2015 at Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Packers won 30-20. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers have waived wide receiver Jared Abbrederis with an injury settlement.

Abbrederis had been placed on the team’s injured-reserve list Wednesday due to a thigh injury.

The settlement makes Abbrederis subject to the league’s waiver system. If he clears waivers he’ll be a free agent and eligible to sign with any team when he’s healthy. He wouldn’t be able to re-sign with the Packers for six weeks.

A fifth-round pick in 2014, he missed his rookie season and played in 14 games over the last two seasons, catching 10 passes for 119 yards. He had just one reception this season.

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