Who would have thought that bringing in Peyton Manning after four neck surgeries and 19 months away from football, and playing with a new team would have translated into another AFC West Division title? I’m sure if your name is John Elway, you might have had a good idea. The Denver Broncos began the season with one of, if the hardest schedules in the NFL, staring at a 2-3 record. All Manning has done has willed his new teammates to victory after victory with seven straight wins.
Not all of the games have been pretty. Some of them have been outright ugly for long stretches. But one thing nobody can deny is the fact that Manning is in full control of this team, and he has the rest of the AFC on notice.
With the Baltimore Ravens offense sputtering of late, and the New England Patriots scoring a ton of points on special teams and defense, the Broncos should clearly be the favorite to gain the two-seed in the AFC, right? Well, let’s look at it this way.
Of those sets of games left, clearly the schedules are in favor of the orange and blue. For a team whose offense at times has looked sluggish and starts off slow in the first quarter, there is no better team in the second half. Even early on when the Broncos would be down by 20 points, they always found a way to either win or keep the games close.
I stated back in preseason that the Broncos would be able to go 11-5, clinch the AFC West and make a solid run into the playoffs. That seems like a gross understatement at this juncture. There simply is no reason why this Broncos team can not run the table and win out all of their games which would seat them number two and give them the bye week.
When you see Manning on the sideline grouping his offense not once, but twice in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday, you know that he refuses to give up and allow mistakes by others. Manning has taken Demaryius Thomas and transformed him into an elite wide receiver, and allows his offense to just flow.
This is becoming a special year for the Broncos and the team that Elway built. A two-seed in the conference is just the beginning. Next up would be a re-match against either the Texans or Patriots in the championship game for a bid at a Super Bowl. I am sure if the Broncos make it that far, they are the last team that either of those teams want to see, because it will most likely not be the same result as earlier in the year.
If I’m Gary Kubiak, Head Coach of the Texans, you are just scratching your head at the possibility of playing the Broncos and Manning again, this time with so much more on the line. And if you are Bill Belichek, you will lose plenty of sleep trying to game plan for another match-up on the Broncos home field.
So as we head into the final stretch, watch the Patriots and you will see an offense that is not the same as a few years ago. They rely heavily on their run game now and special teams play for quick bursts of points. This clearly is not the same Tom Brady. Then take a good look at the Ravens, and with a banged up defense and an offense that has looked more like the San Diego Chargers lately, you would be hard-pressed to call them the favorite to win even two of their last four.
This Broncos team is special, and it all starts with Manning. I am sure he will be looking forward to that bye week for a little rest before gunning for the big game. And with the NFC looking more like it is up for grabs, who knows what lies ahead in the biggest game of all.
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