How the Denver Broncos Stack Up Against Each Current AFC Playoff Team
There are only two games remaining in the 2013 regular season, and the Denver Broncos are currently tied for the best record in the AFC at 11-3.
Houston has dropped 12 consecutive games and Oakland currently holds a 4-10 record.
Despite the fact that the Broncos' final two opponents carry a combined record of 6-22, they still need to gain some momentum heading into the postseason following a disappointing home loss to San Diego last Thursday night.
Three teams have already qualified for the playoffs, and here we will examine how the Broncos stack up against each potential playoff team.
Considering how each of these teams have played this season and their recent history with the Broncos, which team do you feel would give them the most trouble?
Kansas City Chiefs
After finishing 2-14 last season, the Kansas City Chiefs have made a remarkable turnaround this season, winning 11 of their first 14 games.
New head coach Andy Reid and his staff deserve much of the credit for that, but they are winning games with good quarterback play and a solid defense.
The Chiefs have a plus-21 differential in the turnover department, and Alex Smith has thrown for 3,160 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Still, two of their three losses have come at the hands of the Denver, and unless the Broncos trip up against either Houston or Oakland, the Chiefs are playing for a wild card.
The Big Question: Can Denver Pile the Points on the Chiefs Again?
Kansas City has had one of the best defenses in the league this season, but Denver has averaged 31 points in their two meetings.
If the two teams were to meet again, the Chiefs would have to get some defensive stops, because—despite the K.C. offense showing more explosiveness in recent games—it isn't clear yet that they can win a shootout against Manning.
With the way the defense is playing, Denver may have to win games by a score of 35-28, as they did against Kansas City in Week 13.
X-Factor Player: Eric Decker
Eric Decker will continue to get more looks as long as Wes Welker is out recovering from his second concussion of the year.
In the second game against Kansas City, Peyton Manning picked on rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper several times, and Decker finished the game with four touchdown catches.
If the Chiefs meet up with Denver again, Decker may present the biggest problem of all to Kansas City's defense.
This may be the last team any fan of the Broncos wants to see in the playoffs, considering what happened in Denver last year.
Baltimore currently holds the final wild card spot in the AFC, but things are clicking for them at the right time.
Should they qualify for he playoffs, a matchup with Denver would be likely. Could they upset the highly favored Broncos again?
The Ravens are now playoff tested and several players on the team know what it takes to win a Super Bowl. That and the fact that it is gaining steam at the right time makes Baltimore perhaps the most dangerous team in the AFC.
The Big Question: Could Denver Contain the Baltimore Passing Game?
In the season opener, Peyton Manning had one of the best games of his career, throwing for seven touchdowns. But Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't bad either.
In fact, in his last two games against Denver, Flacco has thrown for 693 yards, and he has back one of his favorite targets in tight end Dennis Pitta.
Baltimore could be a tough matchup again.
X-Factor Player: Rahim Moore
This would all be contingent on Rahim Moore being able to return from injury, but he would probably love another crack against Flacco and the Ravens in the playoffs.
The Broncos would need to have good play out of their secondary in order to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs and a hungry, healthy Moore could be a big help.
Add to that the fact that they have already beaten Denver this year, and they would likely be brimming with confidence should the two teams meet again.
With that said, the Colts have not played great since beating Denver in Week 7, barely escaping an upset in Houston and then getting blown out by both St. Louis and Arizona.
They also have clearly not been the same team since losing veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who went down with a torn ACL and was lost for the season in the late stages of the win over Denver.
The Big Question: Could Denver Control Time of Possession?
Many teams will watch the film of how San Diego was able to defeat Denver and try to implement the same game plan.
X-Factor Player: Chris Clark
Denver left tackle Chris Clark had his hands full with Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis in the first meeting, as Peyton Manning's former teammate was able to pressure him a few times.
Mathis came up with one of the game's biggest plays, hitting Manning from behind in the second quarter and knocking the ball free. The ball went out of the end zone and resulted in a safety, trimming Denver's lead to 14-12.
Indianapolis was able to score and take the lead on the ensuing possession, and they never looked back.
If a rematch were to occur, Clark would have to do his best to limit Mathis. Clark has done a good job filling in for injured All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, but the first game against the Colts was his shakiest performance of the season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are finally showing consistency and appear headed to their third straight playoff appearance.
On top of that, they have an attitude about them that suggests they wouldn't be intimated by Denver, even if they played the Broncos at Sports Authority Field.
The Big Question: Could Denver Account for All of the Bengals' Weapons?
We all know how good A.J. Green is. So lets suppose that the Broncos were able to find a way to effectively limit him in the game.
Would they be able to handle Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard?
Many of those players present major matchup problems, and the Broncos would have to be at their best defensively.
X-Factor Player: Danny Trevathan
The Broncos would need someone to step up on defense in this game, even if he did so quietly.
Trevathan could be the answer to controlling some of Cincinnati's offensive weapons, especially when the Bengals line up with two tight ends.
Trevathan is a strong coverage linebacker, and he could shadow both Gresham and Eifert, perhaps forcing Dalton to go somewhere else with the ball.
Dalton has been prone to mistakes, and if the Broncos could force a few errors, that could be the key to victory.
New England Patriots
There is little doubt that the New England Patriots are the team that would give Denver the most trouble of the likely playoff contenders.
Miami did Denver a huge favor last Sunday by beating the Patriots, knocking them behind the Broncos in the race for home-field advantage.
One thing is for sure—the Broncos don't want to play them in New England. That doesn't ever go well for them or Peyton Manning.
Not even a 24-0 lead was safe earlier this year in Week 12, as the Broncos let the Pats get back into it and eventually lost the game in overtime.
The Big Question: Can Denver Secure Home-Field Advantage?
Though the Patriots have come into Sports Authority Field and beaten the Broncos before, Denver is 14-3 at home with Peyton Manning.
The difference between a game in Denver and a game in New England would be huge and could determine who wins as much as anything.
X-Factor Player: Montee Ball
Since losing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a season-ending injury, New England has been susceptible to a strong running game.
If the Broncos were to get a lead, bringing in a fresh Montee Ball to chew up some clock and close the game out would be perfect for a Denver team who doesn't want to see Tom Brady lead another late rally.
Still in Contention—Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers
The Miami Dolphins (8-6) and San Diego Chargers (7-7) are still very much in the playoff hunt, though San Diego needs a lot to go there way in order to sneak in.
As for Miami, they seem to have become a better team after losing two of their five starting offensive linemen. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has played very well.
If the Dolphins were to get into the playoffs, they'd be the kind of team no one really wants to play.
It is a lot less likely that we'll see San Diego get into the postseason, but the Chargers are the only team that has defeated the Broncos in Denver this year, so they know they have what it takes to pull the upset.
The Chargers close the season with two home divisional games, first against Oakland and then against Kansas City.