The Denver Broncos start the second half of the season this Sunday and things get serious right away.
The next four games will write the story of the 2013 season. There are three divisional games (two against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs), the annual slugfest against playoff perennial New England, and three of those four games will be on the road.
If Denver makes it through that tough stretch at 4-0 you can pretty much book the AFC West title and a playoff bye. If not, things will get very interesting.
Clearly the two most important games in the second half are against the Chiefs. Even though Kansas City has been the beneficiary of possibly the easiest 9-game schedule stretch in the history of the league, they currently sit at 9-0 and lead the division. If Denver wants to win their third straight AFC West championship they’ll need to do it on the field against the only team above them in the standings.
It would certainly benefit them to enter the playoffs as the AFC West champs. The difference between a division champion and a wild card in the playoffs is massive. A division champ would possibly have to win only two home games to reach the Super Bowl, whereas a wildcard would have to win three road games to get there.
One thing we’ve learned in recent years is that being a wild card doesn’t mean a Super Bowl title is out of reach. The 2007 New York Giants and 2010 Green Bay Packers are two examples of Wild Card teams who have won it all. Still, Denver would prefer the path of least resistance, and that means taking care of business within the division.
Luckily for Broncos fans Peyton Manning is typically at his most dominant when he plays divisional opponents. That includes a 7-0 mark in the West since he became a Denver Bronco. He’ll look to add to that total this week when Denver kicks off the home stretch against the San Diego Chargers.
Despite the fact Denver has won three in a row against San Diego and the Chargers 4-4 record has them on the outside of the AFC West race, they’re always a tough out with Philip Rivers behind center. Not to mention they’re coached by ex-Bronco Mike McCoy who is more familiar with the Broncos than any other opposing coach they’ll see all year, and they’ll also be without John Fox who has been sidelined with emergency heart surgery.
No matter. The Broncos need to make a statement in this game to set the tone for the second half of the season. In order to take the division lead from the Chiefs, Denver has to take care of business against teams they should beat. They should come into this game well rested and motivated, and I expect Denver to demolish the San Diego Chargers.
A wild comeback victory in San Diego last year sparked an 11-game winning streak, and Broncos’ fans everywhere are hoping a big win on Sunday sparks a similar winning streak this season.