NFL Preseason 2014: Denver at San Francisco

broncos-fans-630x434This Sunday, August 17th, Levi’s Stadium will be home to one of the most exciting matchups in all of professional football’s preseason. Some think this game could be a preview of the 2015 Super Bowl.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t have much to be proud of after the first week of preseason play, losing by twenty points to Baltimore. Though preseason struggles aren’t necessarily a sign of troubles to come during regular season play, San Francisco’s lack of offense was troublesome, even this early.

For their part, the Denver Broncos have preseason bragging rights after a solid 21-16 victory in their first preseason game against Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champs. The Broncos surprised analysts and fans alike by putting up a tougher defensive stance in this early game than they did in many games late last year. How San Francisco responds to the new first-stringers may determine the overall outcome of the game.

San Francisco and Denver usually face off against one another only during the preseason, so even though both teams are favorites to win their respective conferences, there’s not much recent history to use to pick an overall winner in this contest.

In the most-recent meeting between the two, Denver won a snoozer by a score of 10-6. This year, there’s added intrigue, as the two teams will play an intra-conference regular season game in October. That makes this second week of preseason more meaningful than most for fans of these two squads.

Denver will try to win with their new and improved front line on defense. Denver’s ability to rush the passer was the most obvious difference between this year’s edition and last years’ Broncos. Solving the controversy at the running back position is another key to Denver’s potential success in this weekend’s regular-season preview in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s offense looked dead-to-the-world last week. Last year’s 49ers were an offensive nightmare for their opponents – why the team failed to put the ball in the end zone in week one is unclear. Depth was an issue for San Francisco last season – with even the first squad unable to move the ball efficiently, it is looking like depth will haunt the 49ers once again in 2014.

Watch for a breakout performance by Broncos’ rookie RB Juwan Thompson. Starting opportunities for rookies are rare in the NFL – those same opportunities for rookie free agents come around even less frequently. Thanks to injuries at the RB position, Denver may have to rely on Thompson early this season for run production. The Broncos overall performance against San Francisco may have as much to do with Thompson as any one other athlete.

The 49ers’ secondary looked out of place in week one – Baltimore threw just nine incompletions all game. With a revamped defense, plenty of passing weapons, and a breakout rookie with something to prove at the RB position, expect Denver to handle San Francisco by at least ten points.

Pick: Denver