With the dust now settled on Sunday’s dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs and coronation of the Denver Broncos as the AFC’s top seed, here are a few additional thoughts on the game, the regular season, and postseason chances.
Air No Grievances- Perhaps the biggest sign this team is hitting on all cylinders is the play of the Broncos’ top two receivers: Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Recall the beginning of the season if you will. Sometimes they were overthrown, other times the ball was on the money and dropped, many times the ball was on the money but the coverage was so tight neither Decker nor Thomas could manage to make the “big play” catch. The receiving duo has evolved this season. In the opening weeks, it was common to see both players begging for calls rather than coming up with catches on contested passes. There’s no begging now, just production.
On Sunday, Decker was pinned against the side of the end zone by two Chiefs and managed to haul in a one-handed touchdown grab. It was terribly impressive, and outdone a short time later by Thomas climbing the ladder in the back of the end zone to make a one-handed highlight submission of his own. This duo used to need space to make plays. Lately it’s been making them in tight quarters. If Decker and Thomas continue to show they can’t be stopped – even with good coverage – then the Broncos become a truly dangerous Super Bowl contender.
Hard Lessons – Denver’s coaching staff doesn’t hesitate to make an example of players. Ronnie Hillman became the latest victim with a turnover, a turnover that for a few moments seemed to be heading toward nightmare scenario status. The rookie running back’s fumble nearly resulted in a game-tying Kansas City touchdown, left offensive lineman Orlando Franklin hurt, and resulted in Peyton Manning getting entangled with Joel Dreessen in touchdown-saving tackle.
Bad, bad play for Hillman. Bad enough to end his regular season a few quarters early.
Lost fumbles remain a problem for the Denver offense. Hillman seemingly stopped what was shaping up to be another touchdown drive (that likely would’ve put the game on the verge of over-before-halftime status), and then proceeded to fluster the offense for another series thereafter. Luckily, the Chiefs woeful offense couldn’t do much in the way of capitalizing on the huge momentum shift. If a New England Patriots rematch is the Broncos’ destiny, a breakdown in ball security will very well end the Broncos’ season, and if a running back is responsible, you can bet he’ll be on the outside of the lineup looking in heading into the offseason.
Recipe for Success – The Broncos defense surrendered its lowest point total of the season, allowing Kansas City only three points (and that was on the drive that began in the red zone due to Hillman’s fumble). In the Broncos’ 11-game winning streak, the team has surrendered an average of roughly 16 points per game. You’ll recall a decent amount of that opposition scoring has come when the game was well in hand (a.k.a. garbage time). Taking out 4th quarter opponent scores that happened in the final five minutes of games in which the Broncos had a double digit lead, the Broncos have allowed opponents an average of 12.5 point per game.
Considering the Broncos lowest point total of the season was 17 against Kansas City in Week 12, and the team has scored 30 or more points in all but five games, it’s not difficult to see why Denver finishes the regular season as the AFC’s top team. The playoffs bring solid offenses to town, but the Broncos made it clear that most, if not all teams, will have to work hard for points.
You Heard It Here – It’s deserving of no prize other than the satisfaction of saying, “I totally called it.” Several weeks ago, Denver Horse Force posited the Broncos had a legitimate shot of winding up as the AFC’s top seed.
Houston’s trouncing at New England opened the door for an intriguing set of circumstances: Broncos win out, New England loses once more, and Houston loses two of three. Not surprisingly, Denver’s role was the easiest to predict as the Broncos demonstrated total superiority against the Baltimore Ravens, fledgling Cleveland Browns, and a lost Chiefs outfit.
DHF also liked the Niners against New England as the San Francisco defense is EXACTLY the type of group that gives Tom Brady problems as it can, and did, play the Patriots straight up in man coverage and generated pressure without blitzing. The Texans’ crumble was also easy to see with the Minnesota Vikings having a workable defense and a solid offensive line to wear down Houston. Oh, and the Texans’ loss this past Sunday was of no surprise. If you watched Chuck Pagano’s news conference the previous Monday you just knew there was no way Indianapolis was losing that game. No way. The football gods would simply not allow the Colts to lose at home in Pagano’s return.
Okay, gloating finished.
Playoff Snapshot – So, what’s the next call? Good question. We’ll get more into playoff breakdowns and predictions later in the week, but for now I’ll say I don’t see a potential divisional opponent capable of coming to Denver and beating the Broncos.
The Ravens and Bengals have already lost to Denver at their places, and frankly I don’t see either team faring better on the road. As an admitted Colts fan, I’m not going to root against Indianapolis, but I really, really, really don’t want to see the Colts have to face Manning in Denver. It would be too weird and emotionally unsettling – to put it mildly. If it did happen, despite the great and improbable season the Colts have orchestrated, I just don’t see that magic getting very far, especially against a Broncos team that knows what a “magical” season feels like, and saw how brutally it can end.
So, the short of it…Denver plays for the conference championship. How it gets there, and whom it plays against will be discussed later in the week.