If the Denver Broncos win the next two games against the Browns and Chiefs, they will secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. This is especially important because the highest seed to advance in the first round would have to come to Denver, and that is widely expected to be the New England Patriots.
With a big win in Baltimore last Sunday, the Broncos have established themselves as one of the favorites in the AFC. The playoffs will determine which team is really the best, but the Broncos are now positioned for success.
The Broncos lost to the Patriots and Texans earlier in the season and the path to the Super Bowl will likely run through one or both of those teams. However, the Broncos are a much different team today than they were early in the season. The Broncos are good on offense, defense and special teams and Peyton Manning is now completely on the same page with his receivers.
Talking Point for Week 16
Really the only question now is if Manning will win the NFL’s MVP award and he’s certainly got numbers that stack up against the other top players in the league. Manning has serious competition for the award from the likes of Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson.
Brady has four fewer interceptions and more passing yards than Manning, so from purely a stats perspective Brady has the edge. Manning’s team won more games, but the Broncos also have a better defense than the Patriots. Brady also beat Manning when the two teams played. There are many arguments to be made on both sides.
While there is a gaggle of quarterbacks that have great numbers, Peterson is a cut above every other running back in the league. Teams know that the Vikings aren’t a passing team and they load up to stop Peterson and he’s still productive.
Brady and Manning both have complementary weapons, but Peterson is basically willing the Vikings to the postseason by himself. Peterson is averaging 129.4 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry. Only C.J. Spiller has averaged more yards per carry, but Peterson has 128 more carries on the season.
Robert Griffin III would probably be in the conversation too if he hadn’t missed a game. There is no shortage of MVP candidates this season, but the voting usually favors quarterbacks. Manning and Brady would be the obvious choices unless Peterson breaks Eric Dickerson’s record for rushing yards in the season.
Wesley Woodyard returned to action Sunday and played every snap. The Broncos remain one of the healthiest teams in the entire league. The only outstanding injury concern is right guard Chris Kuper, but he’s been working his way back and the Broncos can give him up to three more weeks if needed.
Avoiding major injury is going to be a key over the final two weeks of the season, but so far the Broncos have been extremely lucky. The only starters outside of Kuper that have missed significant time have also been very replaceable.
Player on the Rise
The Broncos needed a big performance by Elvis Dumervil on Sunday and he delivered. Dumervil has been inconsistent this season and has struggled since Week 4. Dumervil’s only good games since Week 4 came against an undrafted rookie for the Chargers.
Dumervil tormented Michael Oher on Sunday. Oher is not an elite player, but he’s the best player Dumervil has dominated since early in the season. If teams start taking away Von Miller as the Ravens attempted to do, Dumervil is going to have a chance to beat left tackles one-on-one.
Sunday’s effort was a good sign and hopefully that means he’s a player on the rise in Denver.
Stat Trends: Offense
It was another week of elite performance for Denver’s offense. The Broncos seem to have more trust in their running game in the red zone which will help them be multi-dimensional in the playoffs against better defenses.
With Knowshon Moreno at running back the Broncos no longer have to worry about fumbles and Manning is in sync with his receivers, so turnovers have become a rarity.
Turnovers are often a big factor in the playoffs and only return man Trindon Holliday is still a concern in that department. This has been Denver’s greatest improvement over the past few weeks and they have done it without losing any production.
Stat Trends: Defense
Denver’s run defense is now ranked second in the league in touchdowns, yards and yards per carry. That’s a huge improvement over last season. Early in the season it would have been easy to believe that the run defense was good by nature of teams falling behind and abandoning the running game, but that can no longer be the case.
The run defense’s rankings still might be a little inflated because the Broncos often have a lead, but not significantly enough to take any shine off of their accomplishment. Once opponents abandon the run Miller goes to work and the Broncos rank third in sack percentage.
Paired with Manning’s offense, the Broncos now have one of the best defenses in the league and it’s been fun to watch it come together. There aren’t many weaknesses, with the one exception being covering tight ends. How the Broncos do against teams with good tight ends will be something to watch as they enter the playoffs.
The Broncos have everything going for them. The Broncos are a well-rounded team that have had good injury luck and a soft schedule that positions them well for playoff success.
There’s really nothing this team can’t do right now. The Broncos have challenges ahead, but they’ve passed the regular season test with flying colors. John Fox has a good track record in the playoffs and has only had one first-round exit in four trips as a head coach.