Several layers of intrigue make Green Bay at Denver on Sunday night the game of the year so far. If this doesn’t prove to be a Super Bowl preview (and it could be), the NFL should only hope its eventual 50th anniversary SB matchup is as interesting.
Start with this being, astonishingly, only the fourth game in history between two teams 6-0 or better. The others were New England-Indianapolis in 2007, L.A. Rams-Minnesota in 1973, and of course who can forget Akron Pros vs. Buffalo All-Americans in 1921.
That alone makes Packers-Broncos a 1972 Dolphin’s dream come true: An unbeaten team, guaranteed to lose.
I also love this matchup because two teams associated with passing and offense are winning first with defense. Green Bay is first in the league in fewest points allowed, and Denver second. Broncos lead with most sacks, followed by Packers.
No getting around it, though: The centerpiece of Sunday night, as much or more than unbeaten vs. unbeaten, will be Aaron Rodgers vs. Peyton Manning.
It’s a rare treat, literally. This will be only the second game in which the two have gone arm to arm as starters. The other was Oct. 19, 2008, a 34-14 Packers win over Manning’s Colts. But that was Rodgers’ first season starting, only his seventh career start. Nobody called him a star, then.
This time, Manning vs. Rodgers is a duel of the highest order of future Hall of Famers.
This second meeting finds the two at a crossroads, though, with Rodgers, at 31, in his absolute prime and flying high as a perennial MVP candidate, but Manning, at 39, fending off increasing speculation that he is fading fast.
Manning has seven interceptions and only two TD passes over his past three games. The Broncos have been winning despite him as much as because of him.
I’m guessing this juxtaposition — the reigning superstar, Rodgers, vs. the fading old warhorse, Manning — will be the font of much electricity and emotion Sunday night in Denver.
Packers fans might not agree, but I suspect many of the rest of us wouldn’t mind Manning surprising his growing doubters with a vintage performance, turning back time at least for one night.
▪ Chargers’ Philip Rivers is on pace (5,604) to top Manning’s season passing-yards record of 5,477 set in 2013. One reason: Rivers 209 passes the past four games are the most in any four-game span by any QB in the Super Bowl era. He’s the reason Keenan Allen has more catches (62) than anybody, ever, through seven games.
▪ Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman is the fourth running back 23 or younger with at least 600 yards and nine TDs in first seven games. Fair company. He’s with Jim Brown in 1958 and ’59, Eric Dickerson in 1983 and Emmitt Smith in 1992.
▪ Giants’ Tom Coughlin last week became the seventh coach to win at least 100 games and two Super Bowls with the same teams, joining Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan.
▪ New England’s Rob Gronkowski reached 60 career scoring catches in his 71st game, the third-fastest to the plateau after Lance Alworth (64 games) and Jerry Rice (69).
▪ Hard to believe, but the Raiders’ Amari Cooper is the first rookie to top 100 yards receiving three times in his first six games since Mike Ditka in 1961.