Football players develop a reputation for a lack of intelligence through the course of their careers, focused mainly on interactions people have with athletes in high school and college.
However, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are not playing dumb when they talk about taking their schedule one game at a time. The Broncos veteran leadership and high football IQ has built a team that has the ability to intensely focus on their opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, without getting caught up in their own superiority as a number one seed.
The Broncos enter their first playoff game as nine point favorites over the Ravens. Their quarterback, Manning, is known among the Baltimore players as the Raven killer. The Broncos destroyed the Ravens in Baltimore just under a month ago, in a game that was much more one sided than the 34-17 score suggests. As the number one seed in the playoffs, Denver should already be looking ahead to the next round and the might of the New England Patriots, another guaranteed winner this week.
This number one seed line of thinking (along with more parity in the NFL) doomed many number one seeds in their quest for a championship. Since 1990, 13 number one seeds have lost in the first round, compared to nine number one seed Super Bowl Champions. An unintelligent group of football players might fall into the trap of letting up on Saturday, but the Broncos are not that team.
While their offense, defense and special teams have all been extremely impressive this season, the Broncos best quality is their professionalism. With future hall-of-fame quarterback Manning and future hall-of-fame cornerback Champ Bailey leading Denver, this is the most focused team in the league, perhaps matched only by the Patriots. Each week the Broncos live by one simple idea; on any given Sunday, any team can win in the NFL.
For the last 11 orange Sundays, the team winning the game has been the Denver Broncos. That amount of focus was not maintained by any of the other playoff teams. The second longest active winning streak is the Seattle Seahawks, who have won six games in a row, including over the Washington Redskins in the playoffs last week. The Broncos ability to truly focus on their opponents, even when they play teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, the Cleveland Browns and the Carolina Panthers, shows a commitment to taking their schedule one week at a time. Most teams preach the week-by-week mentality, but this time Denver lives it. Not one player has looked ahead to the next game in the locker room. The Broncos could easily win the AFC Championship and not know the next game is the Super Bowl.
Manning has a losing record in the playoffs, 9-10. After four neck surgeries, he’s not taking anything for granted. The Broncos were down 24-0 at halftime in week six to the San Diego Chargers and the season appeared to be over. They are now the number one seed in the AFC, looking to win the next game.
The Broncos have it figured out and barring a complete collapse in execution on a cold January day, this team will be looking to outsmart a chess master in coach Bill Belichick next week (as long as Tom Brady and company don’t overlook the Houston Texans).