Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EDT (NBC).
Spread: Broncos by 6.
Forecast: Partly cloudy, 43 degrees
Records: Broncos (3-3); Saints (2-4)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 21, 2008: Broncos 34, Saints 32; Nov. 21, 2004: Broncos 34, Saints 13. Series record: Broncos hold a 7-2 edge.
What matters: Both teams have to like where they sit heading into this game. The Saints appear to have escaped the storm of an 0-4 start that was fueled by the hangover from the bounty-scandal-tinged offseason and the absence of interim head coach
Manning heads into the game on a tear, having silenced all doubters who questioned his arm strength and the quality and velocity of his passes early in the season. After leading the Broncos to their biggest comeback win in 33 years -- from 24-0 down to a 35-24 win at San Diego on Oct. 15 -- Manning is on pace for Broncos records in yardage, completion percentage, quarterback rating and touchdown passes, and is on pace for one of the two best seasons of his career in each category. A significant part of Manning's success rests in his trust of an array of targets; six Broncos already have 17 receptions, more than all but one other team (the other team with six, 17-catch players, Tennessee, has played one more game).
Who matters: Wesley Woodyard has settled back into his role as the Broncos' weakside linebacker after Keith Brooking was moved to middle linebacker, replacing the demoted Joe Mays. But now Woodyard faces one of his biggest challenges: containing New Orleans RB Darren Sproles, who averages 5.4 yards per carry and 8.3 yards per reception. Woodyard is the Broncos' smallest linebacker at 229 pounds and has enough speed to have a chance at containing Sproles. Woodyard is also the Broncos' leading tackler and doesn't miss many stops, although the slippery Sproles represents a unique challenge.
If the Broncos' speedy pass-rush tandem of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller can't pressure Drew Brees, their hopes of containing the Saints might rest on whether they can slow down TE Jimmy Graham, who has been limited in practice this week because of an ankle injury. Graham isn't on his usual pace, but the Broncos have struggled to contain elite tight ends. This season, they've conceded five touchdowns to tight ends: one each by Pittsburgh's Heath Miller , Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and Houston's Owen Daniels and two by San Diego's Antonio Gates on Oct. 15.
Key matchup: If CB Tracy Porter is not cleared to play after dealing with symptoms that led to a seizure in August, the Broncos will be short-handed against Saints receivers. Denver might isolate CB Champ Bailey on WR Marques Colston, which would continue the tactic of using the perennial Pro Bowler to shadow the opponent's primary downfield threat. With Porter out, the burden of covering WRs Lance Moore and Devery Henderson will fall to CBs Chris Harris and Tony Carter. They combined for three interceptions and a fumble recovery at San Diego when Porter was sidelined, but Rivers was under much more pressure than the quick-firing Brees will be, which means fewer errant throws and fewer opportunities for big plays to compensate for any they allow.
Injury of note: Porter did not practice Thursday and Friday as he continues to struggle with symptoms including dizziness that were a precursor to a seizure in August. Porter has not yet had a relapse of the seizure, but the Broncos are being cautious with him, having held him off the team flight to San Diego when the symptoms recurred Oct. 14. He was on the practice field Monday and Wednesday -- but on a limited basis.
Inside stuff: There isn't much chance that the Saints will be able to diversify their offense; New Orleans is last in the league in rushing yardage per game (76.2) and fifth from the bottom in yardage per carry (3.7). The Broncos' run defense got a boost in the two games Brooking worked at middle linebacker, giving up just 73.0 yards per game when he started there, as opposed to the 136.3 yards they permitted with Mays in the middle. The wild card, however, is the Saints' emphasis on three-wide receiver formations; they run 52 percent of their plays with three wideouts, which will keep Brooking off the field when the Broncos go into their nickel package. That could open up some unexpected lanes for New Orleans' runners.
Connections: Porter played from 2008-11 for the Saints … Vitt is the father-in-law of Broncos QBs coach Adam Gase … Saints TE Daniel Graham played four seasons (2007-10) for the Broncos but will not make the trip because of an injury … Saints DT Brodrick Bunkley spent the 2011 season with Denver … Saints S Rafael Bush was with the Broncos last year and was cut at the end of this year's preseason … Saints G Eric Olsen was a 2010 sixth-round draft pick of the Broncos who was cut in 2011 … Broncos DT Justin Bannan and Saints LB Chris Chamberlain were teammates in St. Louis last year.
Stat you should know: Denver's 17-6 record after bye weeks is the second-best in the league, as is its 12-3 record in home games played after byes.
Bulletin board quote: "We're not getting the Saints at a bad time; they're getting us at a bad time." -- Broncos RB Willis McGahee.
Record watch: If Manning throws for over 300 yards and completes at least 70 percent of his passes, he will extend his league-record streak of games reaching those milestones to four.
Looking ahead: A two-game road swing at Cincinnati and Carolina follows, which begins a run of five trips in seven weeks. Just one of those road games is against a team that currently has a winning record (Week 15, Baltimore); the four away games before then are against foes that are a combined 7-17.
Prediction: Broncos 45, Saints 35.