NFL Preview – San Francisco (4-2) at Denver (4-1) (ET)

By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) – Sunday night’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers
and Denver Broncos already figured to be must-watch TV given the success both
clubs have had in recent seasons.

A chance at history for Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning only adds another
level of intrigue, even if the former MVP isn’t focusing on numbers.

Still, Manning moving past Brett Favre for the most touchdown passes thrown in
NFL history figures to give Denver a good shot at beating the visiting 49ers
this Sunday at Mile High.

The Broncos and Niners know a little something about having success in the
NFL. Denver rolled all the way to the Super Bowl last season, though it was
routed by the Seattle Seahawks, while the Niners have made it to three
straight NFC Championship games with one Super Bowl appearance.

“They’re a good football team. They’re well coached, they’ve got good talent
and they’ve assembled a very good roster,” said Broncos head coach John Fox of
the Niners. “That’s why they’ve been able to win all those games and be in
those championship games. So I think it’ll be a very formidable foe and I
think that’s a good reason why we’re playing on Sunday night.”

Added Niners quarterback Jim Harbaugh of the Broncos, “We’re going to have to
be at our best. Great challenge. It’s a prolific offense, but it’s a very good
football team defensively. Their special teams is exceptional across the
board. This is a big game, big challenge, big task but we’re excited to
compete.”

The biggest storyline going into this primetime game has to be Manning, who is
three touchdown passes away from breaking Favre’s all-time mark of 508.

Manning inched closer to the record by throwing three TD passes in a 31-17 win
over the New York Jets last Sunday. That performance came at MetLife Stadium,
the same place where the Broncos were routed by the Seahawks in the Super
Bowl.

Despite being sacked twice and hurried countless other times in the first one-
and-a-half quarters, Manning still ended 22-of-33 passing for 237 yards versus
the Jets. He threw a pair of TD passes to tight end Julius Thomas, while
wideout Demaryius Thomas had 10 catches for 124 yards and a score.

Ronnie Hillman, filling in for an injured Montee Ball, carried the ball 24
times for 100 yards, while Aqib Talib recorded a 22-yard pick-six with 15
seconds to play to seal the outcome and deny New York a chance at a game-tying
score.

“The way the Jets played us, they didn’t think too much of our run game. It
was good to get it going,” Manning said.

The Broncos improved to 4-1, winning two straight coming out of the bye.
Denver had lost in Seattle in overtime in Week 3.

The Niners, meanwhile, have followed up early back-to-back losses with three
straight wins. That includes a 31-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams last
Monday night as the club overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the first
quarter.

Colin Kaepernick passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns, hooking up with
wide receiver Brandon Lloyd on an 80-yard score with less than 30 seconds to
play until halftime that shifted the momentum.

“Big momentum boost for us,” said Kaepernick. “We didn’t take advantage of the
opportunities early in the game. We did later in the game.”

Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree also caught TD passes as Kaepernick
improved to 4-0 in his career on “Monday Night Football.”

On defense, the Niners registered five sacks.

San Francisco and Denver are meeting for the first time since a 24-16 victory
by the 49ers on Oct. 31, 2010 in London, England. The Niners are visiting
Denver for the first time since 2006 having won four of the last six regular-
season meetings.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

In part because of promotion and also because of talent and significance, it
will be impossible for Manning’s chase of Favre’s record not to be the main
focus of this game.

Already joining Favre as the only two quarterbacks in NFL history to beat all
32 current teams, Manning is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and keeps defensive
coordinators up all night as they try to figure out ways to shut him down.

“Big challenge. Huge task. A tremendous offense. Great quarterback. Capital
‘G’ at the highest level. And that competitive challenge is something that I
think our team, our defense, will be up for,” said Harbaugh.

Manning has thrown for 1,530 yards this season with 15 touchdown passes and
three interceptions for a passer rating of 110.5. He has 3,032 passing yards,
27 TDs and a 111.4 rating in his last nine versus the NFC.

However, Manning remains focused on just getting the Broncos to a Super Bowl
title and his main goal over the past few weeks hasn’t been the record, but
having Denver play in top form coming out of the off week.

“I think we’ve responded well coming off that bye week and have had two good
wins playing excellent teams,” he said. “So that’s what I’ve concentrated on,
trying to do whatever it takes to win and I don’t feel like it’s been a
distraction because we’ve handled it and focused on what’s important.”

Julius Thomas, who leads the NFL with nine touchdown catches, agrees that the
record hasn’t taken over the gameplan.

“Probably the only time I talk about it is when you guys (the media) ask It’s
not something we talk about as an offense. Peyton doesn’t talk about it, so we
just keep playing football,” declared the tight end.

Manning will take his shots against a San Francisco defense that ranks second
in the league, giving up 287.2 yards per game. The Niners also rank second
against the pass, yielding 207.3 YPG.

That despite linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension) and NaVorro Bowman (knee)
having not played a down this season and San Francisco could be out a third
world-class linebacker because of a toe injury suffered by Patrick Willis.

With Willis exiting Monday’s game, linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Dan Skuta each
had two sacks and safety Antoine Bethea added his first with the club.

Rookie Chris Borland is likely to be the one to step in for Willis at inside
linebacker Sunday night next to Michael Wilhoite.

“What’s been amazing to me is how well they’ve adjusted to injuries,” Manning
said of San Francisco’s defense. “You lose some of these guys and they
couldn’t be doing this as well, they couldn’t be stopping the run as well and
you see it statistically and you see it on film. They’ve got guys stepping up,
answering the bell, still playing their schemes. Stout against the run. That’s
probably been as impressive as anything.”

Kaepernick gets the task of trying to outplay Manning and has won six of his
last seven starts versus the AFC. When the mobile quarterback is on, he is
tough to stop and the Niners are 15-1 including the playoffs when Kaepernick
has a 100-plus passer rating.

Kaepernick has also controlled the ball well, passing for 1,456 yards and 10
touchdowns with four interceptions, but also has added 242 yards on the
ground. He has taken off 46 times, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

“I think Kaepernick has his unique style of playing. I’m not sure you could
put other people in his category,” said Manning. “I think he does some things
I’m not sure anybody can do. The way he runs the ball — he’s not running to
get first downs, he’s running to score. He’s tough to tackle.”

Linebacker Von Miller will be one Bronco trying to bring him down. Miller had
two sacks versus the Jets, giving him six in his last four games. A sack on
Sunday night would give him the third five-game sack streak of his career.

However, Denver did lose linebacker Danny Trevathan again, placing him on
injured reserve/designated to return on Tuesday just over a week after he
returned to the field from a previous injury.

Trevathan fractured the upper portion of his left kneecap versus the Jets. The
third-year pro had sat out Denver’s first three games after fracturing part of
the tibia in the same leg in August, but was back in action following the bye.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Manning will take center stage of Sunday night and that will also thrust
Kaepernick into the lights as well.

“I think we’re two people trying to lead our team to victories. At the end of
the day, that’s what we do,” said Kaepernick.

That is something that Manning has been doing for many, many years now and it
would be tough to believe that the record isn’t on his mind. That could be a
good thing, though, as touchdowns can win games and getting the record out of
the way early could be a blessing.

San Francisco’s defense has played better than expected given the injuries it
had to deal with before the season even started, but the loss of Willis could
be the one that breaks the camel’s back.

Even with Manning under center, the Broncos aren’t afraid to run the ball at
times to keep teams honest and San Francisco’s stretched defense will likely
struggle containing all of Denver’s offensive weapons.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 28, 49ers 20