Contending Matchup

The Denver Broncos' offense carried the team to wins in its first three games, but wasn't enough to overcome an ugly defensive effort last week.

The Broncos will try to bounce back against a team coming off its best defensive performance of the season.

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The Broncos hope to find some answers defensively as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a matchup of teams trying to maintain their spots on top of their respective divisions.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Denver -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on Denver -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Denver (3-1) gave up 28.0 points and 421.7 yards per game in its first three contests, but averaged 38.0 points and 432.0 yards to go undefeated in that stretch. The Broncos, though, couldn't extend that streak last Sunday, when their offense totaled 446 yards but failed to bail out the defense in a 33-19 road loss to lowly Kansas City.

"I'm disappointed. We could've played better," safety Marlon McCree said. "The thing about a loss like that is it humbles you and makes you focus and tighten things up."

The Broncos definitely have some work to do. They rank 30th in the league with 408.8 yards allowed per game, and 31st with 117 points allowed. They let Chiefs running back Larry Johnson rush for 198 yards, the most by a single player against Denver since Green Bay's Ahman Green had 218 on Dec. 28, 2003.

"We've got to find a way to be more consistent," cornerback Dre' Bly said. "Defensively, we haven't had the year we want to have."

Coach Mike Shanahan, however, doesn't put all the blame on his defense. Denver turned the ball over four times last Sunday and settled for field goals in the red zone twice in the fourth quarter, during which the Broncos were outscored 17-6.

"Any offense that does that to a defense, there's no chance," said Shanahan, whose team still has sole possession of first place in the AFC West. "People will point to the defense, but that's so far from the truth.

"We've got to play better. We've got some work to do. But it was not quite as bad as it looked in those final stats."

The Broncos could likely learn a few things from the Buccaneers (3-1), who have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL twice and ranked among the top 10 statistically 10 times in 12 seasons under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

After ranking second in 2007, Tampa Bay showed some signs of aging early this season, giving up 359.0 yards per game in the first three weeks. The Buccaneers, though, held Green Bay to a season-low 181 yards in a 30-21 victory last Sunday - their third straight. They fell behind early in the fourth quarter before scoring the game's last 10 points to stay in a first-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South.

"This is a testament to this team, just finding a way to win in the fourth quarter," 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "No matter what phase of the game or who it is, we've been able to come up with big plays. To me, that's the sign of a good football team."

Brooks, who's been slowed by a hamstring injury sustained in Tampa Bay's season-opening loss at New Orleans, had one of the Bucs' three interceptions last week and also forced a fumble that Jermaine Phillips returned 38 yards for a touchdown.

"Unbelievable," coach Jon Gruden said. "We know he's been nursing and working through an injury. What he played like today was the Derrick Brooks that everybody recognizes. He made plays sideline to sideline. There's a lot of strength left in Derrick Brooks and we need him in the final 12 weeks."

Brooks and the Tampa Bay defense will try to keep the pressure on Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who's second in the league in completions (102) and passing yards (1,275) and third with nine touchdowns. The third-year player passed for a season-high 361 yards in last week's defeat.

Cutler's counterpart will be 33-year-old veteran Brian Griese, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Broncos and played behind John Elway as a rookie during Denver's Super Bowl championship season in 1998.

Griese has never faced the Broncos, who have won two of three meetings with the Buccaneers under Shanahan. Gruden, who coached Denver's AFC West rival Oakland for four years before taking over Tampa Bay in 2002, is 1-8 against the Broncos.

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
TAMPA BAY is 3-0 against the spread versus DENVER since 1992
DENVER is 2-2 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
There were no past matchups in this series during this time period.
All games played at DENVER since 1992
TAMPA BAY is 2-0 against the spread versus DENVER since 1992
DENVER is 1-1 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Key Player Injuries:
[CB] Aqib Talib missed last game, %27?%27 - Hamstring - 09/21/08
[FB] B.J. Askew left last game, "?" - Hamstring - 09/22/08
[OG] Davin Joseph is "?" - Foot - 09/23/08
[WR] Joey Galloway is downgraded to doubtful - Foot - 09/23/08
[RB] Carnell Williams is expected to miss first 6 games. - Knee - 08/28/08
[DL] Ryan Sims left last game, "?" - Hamstring - 09/22/08
[C] Tom Nalen IR - Knee - 09/21/08
[S] Marlon McCree is upgraded to probable - Neck - 09/24/08
[WR] Darrell Jackson missed last game %27?%27 - Calf - 09/21/08
[RB] Anthony Alridge IR - Hamstring - 08/29/08
[RB] Ryan Torain expected to miss up to 3 months - Elbow - 08/07/08
[DT] Carlton Powell expected to miss at least six weeks. - Knee - 08/27/08

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