5 Reasons the Denver Broncos Will Play in the Super Bowl
Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Co. continue to dazzle on offense and despite a seemingly endless succession of injuries, the defense has finally started to shown signs of life. Oh, and did we mention No. 18?
Despite bagging the number one seed, the attitude at Dove Valley is all business as the Broncos look to banish last year's Baltimore nightmare.
There are plenty of naysayers who argue that the Broncos are too weak defensively to go all the way to the big game, but here are five reasons why John Fox's men will be representing the AFC at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.
1. Peerless Peyton
Cast your mind back 16 months. Peyton Manning is just about to make his comeback after multiple neck surgeries.
Would he survive a big hit? Could he still make deep throws? After years in the dome in Indianapolis, how would he cope with the vagaries of the Colorado climate? The numbers speak for themselves.
An NFL-record 55 touchdowns (16 more than closest rival Drew Brees. 16!), 5,477 yards (315 more than Brees) and a quarterback rating of 115.1 (topped only by Philadelphia's Nick Foles). And despite the absence of left tackle Ryan Clady he's been sacked only a league-low 18 times.
Like a fine bottle of cabernet sauvignon, Manning is getting better with age and there's no reason to think that will stop come playoff time.
2. Multiple Offensive Threats
You double-team Demaryius Thomas, Peyton will throw it to Eric Decker. You double-team Decker, he'll throw it to Julius Thomas. You double Julius Thomas, he'll dump it off to Andre Caldwell or Jacob Tamme. And we haven't even mentioned Wes Welker, who should be back for the playoffs.
And then there's plan B in the form of running back Knowshon Moreno, who has racked up over 1,500 all-purpose yards. Rookie RB Montee Ball appears over his fumbling issues and offers a nice change of pace.
If the Broncos reach the opposition's 20-yard line then the scoreboard operator had better get ready. Denver scores a touchdown inside the red zone a league leading 76.19 percent of the time.
Good luck stopping that lot.
3. Unfinished Business
The Broncos went into last season's playoff opener against the Ravens on the back of an 11-game winning streak. They also enjoyed a big win in Baltimore weeks prior to the divisional-round rematch at Mile High and despite claims to the contrary, a certain amount of overconfidence seemed almost inevitable.
There will be no repeat this time around. The serious business starts on Jan. 12 and the players and coaching staff know it.
In a postgame interview with DenverBroncos.com following the win in Oakland, veteran cornerback Champ Bailey said, "Everybody’s 0-0 now. There’s 12 total teams in this thing. We’re one of them. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re the one that comes out on top in the end."
In 1996, the Broncos suffered a crushing and unexpected defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars in their playoff opener. A year later Mike Shanahan's men lost in the regular season to Kansas City and Pittsburgh before beating them both in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl.
Denver's three losses this season have all been at the hands of AFC playoff teams. With San Diego, Indianapolis or New England possibly still to come, history could yet repeat itself.
4. Defense Steps Up
For a defense looking to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs, games against Houston and Oakland are great places to start.
The much-maligned Broncos D has been a work in progress for much of the season with injuries (Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe, Von Miller) and suspensions (Miller again) causing havoc to coordinator Jack Del Rio's plans.
But as The Denver Post's Mike Klis put it, the Broncos defense is clicking at the right time. It might not have had much clicking to do against two of the NFL's worst teams in the Texans and Raiders, but the pieces appear to be moving in the right direction.
Von Miller's absence is obviously a huge blow, but it could be tempered somewhat by the return of Champ Bailey as the nickelback. After a nagging neck injury, Wesley Woodward has shown flashes of his early-season form, and there have been contributions from the likes of first-round pick Sylvester Williams and free-agent acquisitions Paris Lenon and Michael Huff.
The Broncos ranked 20th in total defense during the regular season, giving up 356 yards per game—a number not especially impressive yet surprisingly better than Indianapolis (21st, 357.1), San Diego (23rd, 366.5), Kansas City (24th, 367.8) and New England (26th, 373.1).
Nobody's expecting to see the '85 Bears, but they should be able to do just enough to give Peyton a shot.
5. Special Special Teams
In Matt Prater the Broncos have one of the better kickers in the league. Elected to his first Pro Bowl this year, Prater was successful on 25 out of 26 field-goal attempts including a record-breaking 64-yarder against the Titans. He also leads the league with 81 touchbacks.
Trindon Holliday has had fumbling issues this year, but when he does hold onto the ball he remains one of the most dangerous return men in the league. He was one of only three players to take two kicks to the house during the regular season and is due a biggie in the postseason. The Broncos rank fifth overall in yards per return.