The Eagles close out September by flying out to Denver to take on the defending AFC West champions in the first of three consecutive road games. Peyton Manning and the Broncos had a more than impressive 2012 season, going 13-3 and earning the top seed in the AFC, but the season ended in bitter disappointment with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
To help take the next step, the Broncos made a few key offseason moves, most notably importing Tom Brady's old friend Wes Welker. Manning's cupboard of toys on offense is now stocked with Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, a trio that might form the best triumvirate of receivers in the league. It's an embarrassment of riches for Manning, as all three topped 1,000 yards receiving last season. Plus, with a second offseason for the team and Manning to adjust to one another, every expectation is that the Broncos will have one of the league's best offenses so the Eagles defense will have its work cut out for them, especially since it's notoriously difficult to get pressure on Manning. In fact, the Broncos allowed the fewest sacks per pass play last year (3.57 percent), so the Eagles' new-look secondary will no doubt be tested.
On the ground, meanwhile, the Broncos have turned the page to future. Second-round pick Montee Ball, a workhorse at Wisconsin over the last few years, appears the frontrunner to man the starting running back job after the release of Willis McGahee, though second-year player Ronnie Hillman will be in the mix as well.
On the other side of the ball, there are likely two new starters in nose tackle Terrance Knighton, signed as a free agent from the Jaguars, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, with whom the Eagles are certainly quite familiar. After two seasons of working against Rodgers-Cromartie in practice, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will surely look forward to the opportunity to take on Rodgers-Cromartie when it counts. And who knows, they might also tell coach Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to run the ball in Rodgers-Cromartie's direction a few times.
The star of the Broncos defense, though, is 2011 first-round pick Von Miller, who came into the league and immediately became a premier pass rusher. Though Miller is a linebacker in the Broncos' 4-3 defense, the overwhelming majority of his snaps are spent rushing the passer, and rightly so. Miller had 18.5 sacks last season, ranking in third in the league. Luckily, the Eagles should have the services of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters to help thwart Miller's advances.
Played in the altitude at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, this game should also serve as a good test for the fitness of the Eagles. LeSean McCoy has already predicted that the Eagles will the "in the best shape in the league," because of Kelly's up-tempo practice and off-the-field regimen, so this Week 4 tilt will be a good opportunity to put that strength to use.