The skinny with the Broncos is that the next five games are critical.
The defending Super Bowl champions, the Broncos (7-4) won their first four games of the season before losing four of their last seven to fall two games behind the first-place Oakland and a game behind second-place Kansas City in the AFC West.
As was the case last season, the Broncos have an elite defense. Denver is fourth in the NFL in total defense and first with 35 sacks. Linebacker Von Miller leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks, and is perhaps the NFL's top edge defender.
The Broncos' season may have turned this past Sunday. They led the Chiefs 24-16 at home before allowing Kansas City to tie the game in the final seconds. Kansas City then won 30-27 in overtime to push the Broncos into a tie with the Miami Dolphins for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Broncos players talked after the Kansas City loss about needing to win their final five games to make the postseason for a sixth consecutive season. They likely need to win at least four of five to do so.
"We just are trying to put our best football out there," Miller said this week. "That is all we can do. We still have five weeks left. It is a long way. Taking it one game at a time, playing as good as we possibly can and whatever happens, happens."
Turnovers have been a key statistic for the Jaguars this season, and that area figures to be critical Sunday. The Jaguars have an NFL-worst minus-15 turnover margin this season; their minus-25 margin over the last two seasons is a major reason they're 7-20 during that span. The Broncos have won an NFL-best 28 consecutive games in which they have fewer giveaways than their opponents.
The Broncos have struggled offensively at times in Trevor Siemian's first season as a starting quarterback after the offseason retirement of Peyton Manning and free-agency departure of Brock Osweiler. But the Denver offense has improved in recent weeks, and Siemian threw for 360 yards with three touchdowns and no interception in the loss to Kansas City. "He is very athletic," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. "He can get out of pressure. He can run. And if he has time, he is very accurate – especially on those intermediate routes – and they run the ball, run the ball and then take a shot over the top of you. He has the ability to get the ball deep to those wide receivers. He is a solid quarterback and is only going to get better as his career develops." Siemian is considered day-to-day with a foot injury and rookie Paxton Lynch likely will start if Siemian is unavailable.
The Broncos are a monstrously difficult matchup for the Jaguars' offense, and that's true even beyond Miller. They not only lead the NFL in sacks, they're fifth in third-down percentage defensively and lead the NFL in points off turnovers. Veteran DeMarcus Ware with three sacks in six games this season remains a dangerous pass rusher opposite Miller, and a secondary that features cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. and safety T.J. Ward is among the NFL's best. "They're both extremely good guys on both sides," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said of Talib and Harris. "It has to be more just what we're doing. It's not like, 'Let's stay away from one or the other.' They're both really good players. For us, it's 'Decide what we want to do and let's do it quick.'''
Getting Miller blocked is one of the NFL's toughest tasks, and that task falls this week to not only Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum but right tackle Jermey Parnell, too. Miller rushes mostly from the left side of the defense but also switches sides; his rare combination of speed, power and athleticism makes it difficult for tackles to handle him one-on-one. The Jaguars' tackles have fared well for the most part in pass protection this season, and the Jaguars' sacks allowed are dramatically down from the past two seasons. Still, considering the presence of not only Miller but Ware and linebacker Shane Ray, Sunday may be the unit's toughest test this season. And while Beachum and Parnell will be key, Bortles this week said protection on Sunday will be "on everybody. It is on the backs and tight ends to get chips. It is on receivers to get open quick. It is on me to get the ball out quick. It is going to be a team effort in trying to keep those guys from ruining the game."
"It's hard to say someone is better than him the way he's playing right now. He really, really jumps out at you and he's something to deal with every play."
--Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Miller
"We're just sitting here trying to get wins. Whatever it takes to get those, we're going to do it."
"He's a special guy. He's obviously a great player. He's become a leader on the football team. Von's played very consistent for us this year, playing at a Pro Bowl level, becoming a leader of the organization as well."
---Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak on Miller