Spread: Falcons by 3
Records: Broncos (Overall: 1-0, AFC West: 0-0); Falcons (Overall: 1-0, NFC South: 0-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Nov. 16, 2008: Broncos 24, Falcons 20; Oct. 31, 2004: Falcons 41, Broncos 28. Series record: Broncos hold an 8-4 edge and have won four straight in Atlanta dating to 1979.
What matters: Both teams want to dictate the tempo, which in a way will play into each other's hands. The Broncos went to a no-huddle offense in the second quarter of their season opener against Pittsburgh and scored on every subsequent drive that didn't involve kneeling down at the end of a half; QB Matt Ryan the Falcons used their no-huddle against the Chiefs to devastating effect, mounting four drives of at least 70 yards to pull away for a 40-24 win. Both offenses will try and exhaust the opposing defenses and leave them no time for substitutions, which could lead to a shootout that extends past midnight on the East Coast.
Who matters: QB Peyton Manning was 15 of 19 after going to the no-huddle last week and looked as comfortable as he did during his prime in Indianapolis. But the Georgia Dome crowd will be vocal and will force Manning and the offense to rely on hand gestures more than Manning's cadence at the line of scrimmage, making this game a crucial test of the Broncos' overhauled offense. LB Von Miller got loose for two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger last week, but both came in the final two minutes when the Steelers were behind by 12 points and trying desperately to hit a deep pass. Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil got pressure on Roethlisberger earlier, but weren't able to convert it into sacks; the Broncos need an earlier takedown or two of Ryan. Broncos LBs Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard each were in on sacks, but both also missed tackles. "We sucked," Mays said when asked to assess the Broncos' tackling. With TE Tony Gonzalez looming, Denver's linebackers will have to wrap up and bring down their targets, or else Gonzalez could re-enact the kind of devastating performances he had at Denver's expense during his 11-plus seasons with the Chiefs.
Key matchups: Broncos WRs Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Stokley vs. Atlanta's cornerbacks. With Brent Grimes out for the season because of a torn Achilles, the Falcons' plan to go three-deep with proven veterans was scuttled. Their top cornerbacks, Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, will hold up fine, but look for the Broncos to attack Chris Owens and shift around their receivers. Denver will try to create a mismatch between Thomas and Owens; Thomas has six inches of height and 49 pounds on the 5-9, 180-pounder. Broncos LT Ryan Clady vs. RDE John Abraham. Clady didn't allow a sack last week and helped Manning's passing pocket remain pristine after the Broncos went to the no-huddle. Manning wasn't sacked and was hit just once after the Broncos eschewed huddling.
Injuries of note: Nickelback Chris Harris didn't practice all week for the Broncos and is listed as questionable, but will make the trip and be a game-time decision, John Fox said. If Harris is out, Tony Carter will replace him, and the Falcons will try to exploit the quick-but-inexperienced Florida State product, who has only played 10 games in four seasons. RG Chris Kuper remains out with a fractured forearm. G/C Manny Ramirez and WR Demaryius Thomas were listed on the injury report with elbow and shoulder injures, respectively, but are expected to play and didn't miss any practice time.
Inside stuff: With Broncos DT Ty Warren lost for the season to a re-torn triceps muscle, the Broncos were forced to reshuffle their tackles. That doesn't mean that they will alter their plans to liberally rotate their interior defensive linemen to try and keep them fresh, but what it does mean is that recently promoted practice squad player Sealver Siliga will be relied upon for potentially 10 to 20 snaps in what will be his NFL debut. Before the season, Denver's DT corps was a weak point due to a combination the age of Warren and Justin Bannan and the experience of young players like pass-rushing DE/DT Derek Wolfe and Mitch Unrein; only Kevin Vickerson was in the prime of his career, and he's coming off an ankle injury that limited his 2011 season to five games. Now, Vickerson will start alongside Bannan, and the Broncos hope that he will have the stamina to play heavily even after gaining 45 pounds this offseason.
Connections: Broncos LB Keith Brooking played in Atlanta from 1998-2008 before joining the Cowboys for three seasons. WRThomas and CB Champ Bailey both grew up in Georgia and will have family on hand.
Stats you should know: Manning has a 13-5 record and an 111.3 quarterback rating in road games played in domes or retracable-roofed stadiums. Denver's offense was fifth-best in third-down conversion percentage last week (56 percent) but fourth-worst in third-down percentage allowed (58 percent). The Broncos have lost nine of their past 10 road Monday night games.
Record watch: Manning needs 15 attempts to pass John Elway for third all-time, and needs one game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime to match Dan Marino for the most all time (47).
Bulletin board quote: "We don't really pay attention to it, but we hear it a lot. Me and Decker are just going to go out and play to our best ability and show it on the field. -- Thomas, on many pundits calling Atlanta's Jones/White tandem the best young receiving duo in the NFL.
Looking ahead: Denver's rough three-game opening stretch continues with a home game against Houston before the Raiders visit Sept. 30 to open AFC West play.
Prediction: Broncos 37, Falcons 34