The Denver Broncos control their own destiny for seeding in the AFC as they head into their last two games, both in the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. With an 11-3 record and sandwiched between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots at 12-2 an 10-4, respectively, they play host to an old rival this Sunday, the Cleveland Browns.
This rivalry has not had much pizazz to it in recent years, and is not the same as back in the John Elway and Bernie Kosar days, but in no way should the Broncos simply cast aside this game as a gimme. The Browns defense plays tough at all times, as evidenced by the turnovers they create and the solid secondary that is lead by CB Joe Haden. They will try to create match up issues against Broncos WRs Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, who are clearly the more talented players on the field come Sunday.
QB Peyton Manning needs to be able to spread the offense while utilizing his tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. This will allow space for his two stud receivers to operate, which will, in turn, give RB Knowshon Moreno the running room he needs to keep the chains moving.
Cleveland has won three out of their last five, but the two losses came against the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. In fact, after starting the season 0-5, the Browns won five of nine and looked as if Head Coach Pat Shurmur’s message is getting across to this young team. QB Brandon Weeden, who some believe the Broncos would have drafted if Manning did not bring his talents to Dove Valley, has had a rocky rookie year that has seen him throw 14TDs against 17INTs and only 3,281 yards. RB Trent Richardson has been a solid rookie all season, but a rib injury has slowed him down as of late.
Richardson only garnered 69 yards the past two games, and has only three 100 yard games on the year. It is tough for any team to win with such a rookie duo such as Richardson and Weeden, and this week, the Browns will not have the services of their best WR, Mohammed Massaquoi, TE Jordan Cameron and DB Tashaun Gipson.
Look for the Broncos defense to have a relatively productive game against an ailing RB, a depleted receiving corps and a defensive line that will be overwhelmed with the type of pass rush they will see with Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Wesley Woodyard and Derek Wolfe.
The one area of concern for the Broncos will be holding onto the ball. The Browns go after the ball as well as anyone in the NFL, forcing fumbles and recording interceptions. If the Broncos can limit mistakes and control the ball, then Manning should be able to lead them to a relatively easy victory in front of their home crowd.
Moreno gets to show off a little more this week as he opposes a defense that allows over 120 yards a game. The born again star of the Broncos offense needs to just protect the pigskin, record 100 yards and move the chains on third down and in the red zone. This is the game where Manning, Moreno, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Head Coach John Fox need to begin improving a red zone offense that is ranked 11th in the league with a 56.36% TD rate. This pales in comparison to New England, who is ranked 1st with a 68.75% rate.
The Broncos have done many things well this year as they seem to improve upon something from week to week, which has been evident in their nine game win streak, which they will try to push to double digits for only the third time in their history. This week it needs to be about the red zone. That is the one area that will hinder them from beating the Texans or Pats in the playoffs.
So for this NFL Week 16, I see the Broncos pulling out a 38-13 win against an over-matched Browns team that does not seem to find a win against good teams. Both Manning and Miller will strengthen their cases for end of the year awards, and Weeden can go home and wonder just what might have been if Denver had become his home. Happy Holidays everyone and enjoy the game!!
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