x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Broncos proving to be the dark horses

Minnesota's win on Monday night made them one of five NFL teams with a 4-0 record. Three of the other four are for real; one team, though, may be playing above their station.

Minnesota's win on Monday night made them one of five NFL teams with a 4-0 record. Three of the other four are for real; one team, though, may be playing above their station. Nearly every pre-season publication held that the New York Giants were a Super Bowl contender and they have done nothing to disprove that. The Giants, who slapped Kansas City around on Sunday, have built a foundation on tremendous defensive and offensive lines.

The only thing that could stop them is bad luck or a significant injury to their quarterback, Eli Manning. His injured heel is not that bad and he expcts to be fit to play against the lowly Oakland Raiders on Sunday. That is only a sparring session before the biggest game of the season a week later, when the Giants face the NFC's other undefeated team, the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are guaranteed to enter that game unblemished because they have this Sunday off, not that they seem to need it.

New Orleans faced a rough test last weekend, but their defence stepped up and forced the New York Jets' rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez, into four turnovers while sacking him five times. Because the Saints' attack have been the most prolific in the league (144 points, 36 per game) their defence have been overshadowed. Astonishingly, their quarterback, Drew Brees, has not thrown a touchdown pass in two weeks and it has not mattered; his team's aggressive defence are allowing only 16.5 points per game.

In the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts lost their long-time head coach, Tony Dungy, to retirement and their Hall of Fame receiver, Marvin Harrison, to eroding skills, but this has not made a difference to Peyton Manning, the NFL's best quarterback. "We played greatness today," the Seattle Seahawks coach, Jim Mora Jr, said of Manning after he led the Colts to four touchdowns in his first five possessions on the way to a 34-17 win.

The Colts' running game has not yet rounded into shape and their defence, while feisty, have yet to see their leader, Bob Sanders, flying around like a human missile. Sanders is an undersized safety who plays with such recklessness he is often injured. That is again the case, but when he comes back someone will pay. The surprising Denver Broncos are he remaining unbeaten team. Their off-season was filled with turmoil, first with the firing of their long-time coach, Mike Shanahan, and then the trading of their quarterback, Jay Cutler, by Shanahan's 32-year-old replacement, Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels was formerly the New England Patriots' offensive co-ordinator and he came to the Rocky Mountains intent on doing things his way. At first that hinted at disaster but when their wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, caught a pass off the head of the Dallas defender Terence Newman and took it a weaving 51 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:46 to play on Sunday it may have set in motion a revival in Denver.

This Sunday, McDaniels comes to a showdown with his old boss, the Patriots' Bill Belichick. He has a defence that held the Cowboys to 74 yards rushing and limited their quarterback, Tony Romo, to 11 of 24 passing in the second half with no touchdowns, a critical interception and five sacks. "To come out and do it against a great team shows we are great," the Broncos' linebacker, DJ Williams, said.

This sort of confidence is perhaps premature in Denver, and the Giants, Saints and Colts may prove just that. rborges@thenational.ae