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Thursday Night Preview: What Should We Expect in This AFC Clash?

C.J. Anderson and the Broncos are looking for a road victory tonight against the Colts. Per our models, how will this one play out?

Last week, we were treated to a battle between two good football teams. This week? Not so much.

The Denver Broncos hit the road tonight to face the Indianapolis Colts, and both sit pretty low in our current power rankings -- the Broncos are 19th while the Colts are dead last.

With both teams playing out the string, what can we expect from tonight's game? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

Due to a variety of factors, Trevor Siemian and Jacoby Brissett lead these two offensive attacks, and both signal callers have really struggled in 2017.

Leading the charge for the visitors is Touchdown Trevor, who ranks 32nd in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (-0.07) among the 40 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs this season. That's not a typo -- Siemian has negatively impacted his team each time he has dropped back to pass the football.

In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the rate at which his drop backs result in positive NEP -- Siemian checks in 33rd (41.51%). One thing you can't fault the Denver quarterback for is being super conservative. Per's Next Gen Stats, Siemian ranks 18th in Intended Air Yards (IAY) per attempt at 8.8 yards per drop back, putting him just above the likes of Jared Goff and Philip Rivers. He's not afraid to take a shot downfield.

Brissett, meanwhile, has really struggled to fill the shoes of Andrew Luck. In 2017, among the 40 passers with at least 100 drop backs, Brissett clocks in 29th in Passing NEP per drop back (-0.04) and ranks 31st in Passing Success Rate (41.82%). This season, Brissett has passed for only 11 scores, and he has 15 turnovers (7 interceptions, 8 fumbles) to his name.

Running Back Play

The Broncos have tried a variety of options at the running back position, and in Week 14, they went back to C.J. Anderson. Anderson led the team with 22 carries, but much like his 2017 season, he was pretty ineffective, rushing for merely 48 yards. Among the 51 running backs with 70 rushes or more, Anderson ranks 37th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.09).

Devontae Booker received nine carries last week, and for the year, he has been Denver's most effective runner. His Rushing NEP per attempt of -0.04 places him 30th out of 68 running backs among runners with 50 rushes or more.

Despite being 97 34 years-old, Frank Gore has carried the load for the Colts' running game, and he's been pretty good. Among backs 70 or more carries, Gore checks in 25th with a Rushing NEP per play mark of -0.05. Currently 5th on the NFL's all-time rushing list, Gore ranks 13th in the league this year in rushing yards (762) and has held off rookie Marlon Mack.

In Week 14's snowmageddon contest against the Bills, Gore was the man, rushing 36 times for 130 yards. Considering Gore's age and the short week, Mack may get some more action tonight with Gore coming off such a massive workload.

Defensive Matchup

These two defenses are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Broncos feature one of the league's best units, ranking third by our schedule-adjust metrics, while the Colts sit dead last.

Denver has been good against the run and pass. The Broncos rank eighth versus the pass and have the league's best unit against the run. Despite allowing a whopping 26 passing touchdowns, tied for the worst mark in the league, Denver has allowed the second-fewest passing yards. Simply put: the Broncos' D has been unlucky this year.

The Colts, meanwhile, have been roasted through the air, ranking last in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, while ranking 20th against the run.

Per Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate -- which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent -- Denver checks in fifth thanks to 30 sacks on its way to an 8.3% adjusted sack rate. Von Miller is up to his usual tricks, and his 10 sacks rank him eighth-best in the league.

Indy? Not so much. Their 20 team sacks is the second-fewest in the league, leading to an abysmal adjusted sack rate of 4.5% (next to last).

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