The last time we checked on the Broncos, they’d just spanked San Diego and seemed nearly invincible. Five weeks later, they’re still pretty damn good—but a lot more, uh, vincible.
After Sunday’s relative beatdown of the Chiefs, the Broncos look poised to win their division rather easily; it’s the AFC that’s still very much in question.
New England currently owns home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs thanks to its 43–21 thrashing of the Broncos in week nine. That loss wouldn’t sting as much if the Broncos hadn’t forgotten to show up in St. Louis in week 11. That 22–7 setback was probably more humiliating than the loss to the Patriots because it kept Denver from grabbing a one-game lead over New England. And because it was the Rams.
Now the Broncos have to win out—against Buffalo and Oakland at home and at the Chargers and Cincinnati—and have New England lose once more in order to grab the home-field edge. The Broncos could accomplish the same thing by going 3–1 while the Pats go 2–2, but that seems unlikely given that Brady and Co.’s final four games are against San Diego, the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills.
We should keep our fingers crossed regardless, because the simple truth is, Peyton Manning is virtually unstoppable in the Mile High confines. On the road he plays more like his brother. Although Colorado weather in January will be unpredictable, it could end up being 60 degrees and sunny. Good luck finding anything better than the blustery 20s in Boston at that time of year.
The good news is, over the past few weeks the Broncos have been developing just the thing they need to make Manning’s playoff performance less of a factor: a battering-ram running game. In the past two games, undrafted second-year RB C.J. Anderson has rushed for 335 yards on just under 60 carries. That’s exactly the kind of workhorse load teams need someone to carry when the dirt and grass turn to mud and ice.
John Elway won his long-awaited rings only after Terrell Davis started dominating on the ground. If the Broncos’ defense can continue its 2014 rebirth—the unit is now up to third overall in yards allowed and fifth in sacks—and Anderson can maintain his unexpected productivity, maybe Manning can (for once in his career) enter the playoffs as a mere signal-caller and field general rather than his team’s desperately needed savior.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.