2023 NFL season: Four things to watch for in Broncos-Bills on Monday night

Monday night’s contest pits a usual juggernaut treading water against a team looking to build on its first winning streak of the season.

The Bills are still dangerous at 5-4, but they’re fading among the ranks of contenders thanks to alternating wins and losses for six straight games dating back to Oct. 1.

Although the Bills remain a top-five club in offensive yards and in both offensive and defensive scoring, the inability to translate that into consistent victories after nine weeks relegated them to the No. 8 seed following last week’s loss against the Bengals — also known as outside the playoffs looking in.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are riding high out of the bye week thanks to back-to-back wins against the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, who Denver had dropped 16 straight against before holding Patrick Mahomes and Co. to single digits.

But even with the recent turn in fortunes, the Broncos still sit two games under .500, with seven of their final nine games coming against teams that entered Week 10 sporting a .500 record or better.

It’ll be a tough road back into the playoff picture — one that likely requires another surprise upset against the host Bills to keep such aspirations in play.

Here are four things to watch for when the Broncos visit the Bills on Monday night:

Denver Broncos

2023 · 5-4-0

  • WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, NFL+
  1. Bills offense, Josh Allen need a reset. It’s been a Favreian year for Allen. The two-time Pro Bowler leads the NFL with 24 offensive touchdowns but is also second with 11 giveaways, behind only Desmond Ridder, who the Falcons benched two weeks ago. His nine interceptions are tied with Jimmy Garoppolo (also benched), Mac Jones and Sam Howell for the most in the league, and his streak of five straight games with a pick is the longest of his career. The Bills have averaged just 20.2 points per game during that stretch, compared to 41 during the three-game winning streak that preceded it. Monday night’s matchup presents a get-right opportunity for Buffalo — at least on paper. Denver’s defense has fallen far from the stingy unit seen in recent years and currently ranks last in both yards and points surrendered overall. However, the Broncos have improved of late, holding opponents to fewer than 20 points in three straight, two of which came against the mighty Chiefs. Does Denver simply have its AFC West rival’s number, or are the struggling Bills in for similar treatment?
  2. Denver offense looks to build momentum. There’s a canyon-sized gap between what the Broncos expected to achieve after acquiring Russell Wilson and what they have managed a year and a half after the trade, but the soon-to-be 35-year-old is quietly rebounding from a disastrous 2022. He entered Week 10 fifth in the league with 16 touchdowns, the same amount he threw all of last season. He also has just four interceptions, a fifth-ranked 101.7 passer rating and two fourth-quarter comebacks. He’s still not the electric, Houdini-esque presence he was in his prime, but the offense has not been an albatross this year in Denver. That’s progress. Wilson is coming off his third game of the season with three touchdown tosses, and he’s not the only Bronco gaining a head of steam. Running back Javonte Williams finally appears to have rediscovered his burst following last year’s knee injury. He’s eclipsed 80 rushing yards in two consecutive games and is coming off a 30-touch performance that included his first score of the season. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy also found the end zone for the first time all year ahead of Denver’s bye. There’s signs of life here. The challenge is sustaining it against a Buffalo defense that is still stout despite mounting losses to injuries.
  3. Von Miller squares off against team that drafted him. It’s not a revenge game, but it is significant in that Miller will play against Denver for the first time in his career. Miller spent 10 and a half seasons with the Broncos after joining them as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, carving out a Hall of Fame resume by winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl 50 Most Valuable Player and being named to the 2010s NFL All-Decade Team. Now a Bill, Miller is still ramping back up from the torn ACL he suffered with Buffalo in 2022. Since coming off the physically unable to perform list on Oct. 7, Miller has played 25-plus snaps only once across five games. He has logged one tackle and a QB hit, but it would be fitting to add more to the stat sheet Monday night. Alongside him, Leonard Floyd (seven sacks), Ed Oliver (five) and A.J. Epenesa (five) will also be getting after it. The Bills are one of three teams with three players already sitting at the five-sack mark, per NFL Research, and the Broncos are vulnerable there. They’ve allowed 26 sacks in 2023, the eighth-most in the NFL.
  4. Pat Surtain II leads Denver against versatile passing attack. The upcoming matchup is one of strength against weakness, even as the Bills look to re-find their footing. Buffalo ranks fifth in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns through nine weeks, while Denver’s defense is 27th and 29th in those respective categories. That’s no fault of Surtain’s, though. He leads the team with eight passes defensed — no other Bronco has more than four — and 32.5% of his targets as the nearest defender have been into a tight window, which ranks fourth in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Denver will be counting on him to shut down Stefon Diggs, who leads the NFL with 70 receptions, is second in receiving TDs (seven) and ranks third in receiving yards (874). But the Bills also have a growing complement of weapons to do damage through the air beyond him. Gabe Davis remains explosive as ever regardless of inconsistent stretches, evidenced by his five TDs, while WR Khalil Shakir (10 catches for 149 yards) and tight end Dalton Kincaid (15 for 146 and a score) have seized prominent roles in the past two weeks. Add to that RB James Cook’s 211 receiving yards on the season, and the Surtain-led Broncos have their hands full.

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