Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) celebrates with Denver Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio following a win against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos won 28-20. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Four teams, Broncos included, have stuff of Super champs


The National Football League regular season is three-quarters toast, 75 percent for those of you who are fractionally challenged.

Here’s the reality: There are four teams that can win the Super Bowl.

In the AFC, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are head and shoulders above the rest. A third team that stands a slim chance is the Cincinnati Bengals.

In the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, barring catastrophic injury to quarterback Russell Wilson, stand alone after blitzing New Orleans 34-7 in Seattle Monday night. No one is going to beat them in Seattle – not the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Panthers and certainly not the Saints.

That’s it. No other team stands a chance.

Several might want to argue, maybe the fine folks from Kansas City, maybe someone from Dallas or Philadelphia, but those teams don’t have enough to make their way through the playoff minefield, then win a game in New York City in February.

If the playoffs were to start today, Denver (10-2) holds the AFC’s top seed, home-field advantage through the playoffs and a first-round bye. New England (9-3) also has that first-round bye.

First-round wild-card games in the AFC would have sixth-seeded Baltimore (6-6) at third-seeded Indy (8-4) and fourth-seeded Cincinnati (8-4) hosting the fifth-seeded Chiefs (9-3).

In the NFC, Seattle (11-1) and New Orleans (9-3) are the top two seeds.

Third-seeded Detroit (7-5) would host sixth-seeded San Francisco (8-4) and fourth-seeded Dallas (7-5) would host fifth-seeded Carolina (9-3).

That’s the here and now of it.

The Broncos are once again in control of their own destiny, in danger only of falling asleep at the wheel as has happened as recently as last season.

Several things will keep that from happening:

First, it is nice to know the Bronco brass pays attention to me. Last week after a loss at New England, I suggested a certain quarterback needs go downfield more often with his passes.

Voila!

Four touchdowns to Eric Decker, another huge deep strike to Demaryius Thomas, and Peyton Manning and his crew are back on track offensively – another 400-plus passing day for Manning, another five TD passes, and all is well with the offense.

Next, how about a plug for the defense.

While Denver did give up more than 400 yards to the Chiefs, the defenders rose to the occasion just often enough. They stopped Alex Smith and the KC offense on five straight series in the second half, allowing them to take a two-touchdown lead.

Wesley Woodyard came up with a key interception in the end zone on Kansas City’s first drive of the game, and safety Mike Adams came up with a big fourth-down play in the end zone in the final minute.

Denver’s defense doesn’t have to be the best in the game; it just has to come up with a stop every now and then.

Here’s another reason the Broncos are going to be just fine, thank you: They have survived a massive dose of misfortune on the health and wellness front.

The head coach, for crying out loud, had heart surgery just more than a month ago. However, John Fox is back at work and that will ease the strain on Jack Del Rio and the rest of the staff. Fox does the dirty work when it comes to management and is a steadying influence in the locker room and on the sideline.

Del Rio can now go back to what he is very good at – scheming. And that will be necessary with three defensive starters down, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe on the line, Rahim Moore in the backfield.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the team’s best one-on-one defender, missed the second half of the New England game and was held out in Kansas City.  He was sorely missed, but will be back and immediately clamp down on the opposition’s top receiver.

Champ Bailey is also back on the field, and while not his old self, will do nothing but get better as the season winds down. He, Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris, playing at a Pro Bowl level defending in the slot, bode well for Denver’s defense down the stretch.

Yes, the bandwagon has arrived and is loading.

Now, it becomes a matter of navigating a few bumps in the road on the way to the Super Bowl.

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Tags: Denver Broncos Jack Del Rio John Fox Peyton Manning

  • anon76returns

    The exciting thing about the playoffs is the sudden death nature, and we’ve seen repeatedly over the last 6+ years that a team getting hot at the right time can beat a seemingly indomitable opponent. Just ask the 2011 Packers and Saints. Any other line of thinking leads to what happened to us last year.

    I think the NFC has more than just Seattle- the Panthers are playing much better now than when they narrowly lost to the Seahawks in the season opener, and I do think the 49ers can beat Seattle at the Stick (or whatever it is called now). Can any team beat Seattle at C-link? Obviously not if Seattle plays like they did last night- nobody could beat them. But they could definitely have a down game at home and be surprised in the playoffs, just as happened to otherwise dominating Bronco teams in 1996 and again last year,

    Yes, the offense looked great last week, and I expect it to look even better when JT returns and as Moreno continues to recover from the bone bruise.
    However, I’m not happy with special teams play, not only giving up the KO return, though that was terrible, but of special concern is the Broncos’ own return game. Holliday is a weapon that other teams fear, and his presence on punt returns noticeably alters how opposition kicks to the Broncos. Denver needs to do whatever it has to in order to restore that kid’s confidence. Hint: shuttling Welker out there as a sometimes returner is not it.

    And the Defense has not been getting it done the last 2 weeks. I’ve been tracking the pressure they put on opposing QB’s via MMQB’s “pressure points” statistic since Von’s return, and in his first 4 weeks back (Indy-KC #1) Denver lead the league in QB pressure, which resulted in opposing QB’s having the lowest completion % and lowest yards/attempt over that period. Starting in the 2nd half against New England, and then all game against KC, the Broncos’ front got almost no pressure on the opposing QB, against New England they rated 24th of the 28 teams that played that weekend, and against KC they not only were held sackless, they also failed to register a single QB hit (they were averaging 4.7 QB hits/game going into week 12, the 4th highest rate in the NFL). With the decreased pressure up front came higher QB completion rates (65%, even with a ton of KC drops) and a lot more passing yards (617 yards net, after only giving up an average of 191 yards/game over the previous 4). The previously stellar run defense is also beginning to suffer. After 6 games the Broncos were giving up 3.2 y/carry and less than 70 yards/game. The last 6 games they’ve given up 4.5 y/carry and 131 yards/game. The Broncos need to figure out how to shut that down if they want to compete with the top teams in the NFC (Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers), all of which feature punishing running attacks complemented by mobile QBs.

    I want to see the Broncos fight hard these last 4 weeks- they don’t have to put it all together in a single game (that’s what the playoffs are for), but I want to see them get all these elements working again. They also have an excellent opportunity to slay this ridiculous myth about Peyton not being able to play in cold weather- daytime high for the Tennessee game will be 25ºF, and it looks to be less than 30ºF for the Thursday nighter when SD comes to town. Time to get that monkey off Manning’s back once and for all!

  • http://sbpra.com/paulvsuffriti Paul V. Suffriti

    Whichever team(s) gets hot in the final stretch of the regular season (and makes the playoffs) will have a good shot at getting to the SB…..I like the AFC chances of taking the SB in North Jersey this coming Feb.