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David and Goliath mismatch creating macabre interest

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - It is the biggest mismatch in National Football League (NFL) history but, like an approaching train wreck, fans are awaiting Sunday's clash between the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars with macabre fascination.

The Broncos (5-0), who boast an up-tempo offense led by four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, opened the week as a record 28-point favorite over the Jaguars (0-5). And with good reason.

Denver scored 51 points in last Sunday's road win over the Dallas Cowboys (2-3), or equal to the total points the Jaguars have scored all season.

Manning, in the midst of record-smashing campaign, has tossed a league-high 20 touchdowns, seven more than his closest pursuer, while Jacksonville quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert have combined for just three.

In Week One alone Manning threw a record-tying seven touchdown passes against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Jacksonville did not find the end zone until the closing minutes of their second game this season.

Few, if anyone, are giving the woeful Jaguars a chance of coming out on top in this David and Goliath matchup with what would likely rank as one of the greatest NFL upsets ever.

But there is still huge interest and a lot of money riding on whether Jacksonville can cover the colossal spread.

"The traditional side of me says there is a lot of value in those points and want to take them but the eyeball test you have to go with Denver," Jay Rood, vice-president of race and sports for MGM Resorts International told Reuters. "I would probably lean toward laying it with Denver."

The previous record-high points spread for an NFL game came in 1976 when the Pittsburgh Steelers were a 27-point favorites over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Steelers easily won that game 42-0.

But spotting a team four touchdowns is unprecedented and past contests featuring such immense spreads have more often than not seen the underdog cover.

OFFENSIVE WIZARDRY

The task facing the Jaguars is immense.

Denver, with the league's top ranked offense averaging 46 points and 489.8 yards a game, faces a leaky Jaguars defense that has surrendered an average of 32.6 points per game. Only the winless New York Giants having yielded more.

The Jaguars run defense is the NFL's worst and will be doing battle in the chilly and breath-sapping Mile High City.

Despite the dire predictions of an historic beat down, Jacksonville supporters are clinging to the faint hope that all is not lost.

The Jaguars, in fact, have won three straight over Denver and possess a respectable 10th-ranked pass defense, putting them ahead of Super Bowl contenders New Orleans, Cincinnati, New England, Baltimore, Green Bay and Denver in at least one important category.

For all their offensive wizardry Denver's defense is not in the same class having given up a league-worst 347 yards per game through the air.

"To me this kind of game shows what we are made of," said John Elway, the Broncos executive vice president of football operations. "It's a matter of taking pride in what we do.

"This is the NFL and even though we are big favorites that doesn't matter we have to come out and play our game and if we do good things should happen but you never know."

While the Broncos-Jaguars showdown has a quirky allure the marquee matchup of Week Six features two of the league's top quarterbacks as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (5-0) visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (4-1).

The Kansas City Chiefs (5-0), the only other unbeaten team along with the Saints and Broncos, will try to extend their perfect mark when they host Oakland Raiders (2-3).

Three other teams will also be seeking their first wins of the season as the Giants (0-5) visit the Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) visit the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4) host the Philadelphia Eagles.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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