At this time last year, the Denver Broncos won the AFC West on the last week of the season, although they staggered to an 8-8 finish. This year with Peyton Manning orchestrating the offense, they have actually scored 349 points in 12 games where last year they scored 309 in 16. Their 9-3 record is good enough to wrap up the AFC West with a month left in the season. Although pundits like Peter King hailed the Broncos from the outset, we here at Taylor Blitz like to see progressive growth during the season. Make no mistake the Broncos are an improved team…but are we witnessing a transcendent team or are they the beneficiary of a weak division??
Before we start…take a look at the standings:
Did you notice the Chargers are in the midst of a 4 game losing streak, the Raiders in a 5 game losing streak, and even though the Chiefs won Sunday, it broke an 8 game losing streak for them?? So what does the crown in the AFC West really mean?? Against a group that had lost 17 straight games…
We need a litmus test that can tell us who the Broncos are and how strong they are. Now that they’re division champs, we have to assess if the Broncos are able to make a Super Bowl run. In actuality there is much in the way of substance but even more in the way of a mirage. Do you realize that aside from Sunday’s game with Tampa, the last time they played a team with a winning record was October 15th?? Even that game was against the backsliding Chargers who have lost 7 of their last 8 games. In their 7 game winning streak, only 2 have come against winning teams. In fact, the Broncos are only 4-3 against teams with winning records. One of the wins came against the Steelers who didn’t have Troy Palamalu, James Harrison, and Ryan Clark. You have to put an asterisk next to that one when assessing strength.
The Broncos are clearly a better team with Manning at the helm. Denver’s offense is #5 in total offense and #3 in total defense but are they battle-hardened?? That is The Chancellor’s point. You have a team that is feasting on a lot of patsies and padding their record like an old Big 8 Nebraska college football team. They have losses to the Patriots and the Texans who have tie breaker advantages over them and Denver would have to travel to either in the playoffs. They are -3 in the turnover margin and the defense has only forced 10 turnovers on the road. Six of those came against the hapless Chargers.
Peyton Manning should be runaway NFL Comeback Player of the Year and in the thick of NFL’s MVP talks as well. He’s completed 304 of 447 (68%) for 3,502 yards, 29TDs with only 9 interceptions. He’s done this with a moderately talented receiving staff and has been the steadying hand for this year. Especially with the loss of Willis McGahee until the playoffs, teams are still gearing toward Manning. Wideout DeMaryius (what kind of name is that) Thomas is having a career year. His 69 receptions, 1,114 yards, and 8 touchdowns pace Bronco receivers. Thomas has more than doubled his 2011 output and still has 4 games to go.
There are some points of substance at individual positions. Von Miller has catapulted himself into the Taylor Blitz Time’s NFL Defensive Player of The Year award conversation. With 53 total tackles, 15 1/2 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and an interception for a touchdown, this is a force. Those are Lawrence Taylor type stats and his highlights over the last month, no one has been able to match his play.
The secondary hasn’t forced a lot of turnovers and only have 5 interceptions for the year amongst the starters. How will this team fare in the playoffs in a game where they can’t generate a pass rush?? Most of these questions are going to go unanswered until we get into the thick of the NFL playoffs. What Coach John Fox hopes is the team can ride the wonderful wave of confidence once the playoffs start.
One game that now looms important is that week 15 match-up in Baltimore. Now that the Ravens lost to the Steelers, Denver is within striking distance of taking the #3 seed away with a win. If they lose in Baltimore, the Broncos worst fears could surface right before the postseason begins. They’d have to be on the road for both the divisional playoff and conference championship games if they lose in Baltimore. That could send them to New England and Houston barring any upsets. Don’t forget they lost to both teams already and the nightmare loss to New England in last year’s playoffs could flash in the minds of Bronco players along with this year’s regular season loss. That could sap the confidence of the team if they fall behind early.
In other words… no game will shape the 2012 AFC playoffs like the week 15 Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens matchup. The winner should at least make the AFC C hampionship…the loser?? Maybe the divisional round. Don’t look now but the Ravens are averaging 34 points per game at home. Buckle your chinstraps boys…the playoffs are coming
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