It is no secret that to the Denver Broncos players, coaching staff, fans and head office, this season has been Super Bowl victory or bust. The overtime loss to the New England Patriots after holding a 24-0 halftime lead on Sunday night has lead to a number of experts denouncing the Broncos Super Bowl chances and claiming that Peyton Manning will struggle to win in a cold weather playoff match, much like he struggled in New England. These are however, the same experts which were quick to call the New England season over before it had even started once the Aaron Hernandez controversy broke. But is it really all doom and gloom for the Denver Broncos, or do they have a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl title?
The Broncos currently hold a 9-2 record, although we must note that they have had a fairly easy schedule for their first eleven games. Six of the Broncos first 11 games were against teams who after eleven games hold a losing record, while another two were against teams with a 6-5 record. The only real tests for the Broncos have been against the Colts, which they lost, a home win against the Chiefs and the Patriots match. Following next week’s game against the 9-2 rival Kansas City Chiefs, Denver has another four relatively easy matches follow to close out the season. However a loss to the Chiefs means the Broncos are likely to earn a wild card spot in the playoffs. This will mean the Broncos are playing on the road and must win three matches just to make the Super Bowl. Despite a possible 13-3 record, or even a 14-2 record, the Broncos will arrive at the playoffs having been tested very few times throughout the season, and lost in at least two of those tests. This does not hold the Broncos in good stead for the playoffs. A similar situation occurred during last year’s season; the Broncos arrived at the playoffs relatively untested and came up against an on fire Baltimore Ravens team who overcame Denver in double overtime. If the Broncos hope to avoid playing on the road throughout the playoffs, it is important the Broncos overcome this weekend’s test against the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Despite his amazing regular season record and phenomenal stats, Peyton Manning’s postseason record is less than perfect. He currently possesses a 9-11 playoff record including 8 losses in his first match of the playoffs. Throughout his illustrious Manning has won just one Super Bowl. Manning has regularly struggled to perform in the playoffs, however not all of his losses can directly be attributed to his performance. Following last season’s playoff loss to Baltimore, many people blamed Peyton for the loss; however Peyton had effectively won the match when the Baltimore Ravens received the football with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the 70 yard touchdown pass came on a huge error by Denver defensive back Rahim Moore, and should never have resulted in a touchdown. It is widely believed that the reason Denver actively recruited and signed Wes Welker in order to help Manning overcome his playoff struggles, but the Denver defence is still the team’s liability.
All season Denver’s weakness has been its defense, with Peyton Manning regularly bailing out the defense, such as the shootout in Dallas against the Cowboys. Denver’s defense dominated the Patriots in the first half of Sunday’s match and it is no coincidence that the Broncos defense dropped off significantly following Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s injury in the final play of the first half. In order to make a strong playoff push, Denver will require the defense to support the offense and Rodgers-Cromartie is key to this. It is vital for Denver that Rodgers-Cromartie and veteran cornerback Champ Bailey return to full health in the next month in order to fuel a deep playoff run.
There is a high likelihood that Denver will be playing in extremely cold temperatures throughout the playoffs, be it in New England, Kansas City, at home in Denver or even in the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands. This does not bode well for the Broncos’ high powered offense. Peyton Manning has struggled a number of times over the past two seasons playing outdoors in cold weather. These struggles continued on Sunday night, with Manning posting underwhelming figures of 150 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. When playing in these matches, it is vital for Manning’s passing game to receive adequate support from both the rushing game and defense. In the first half on Sunday night, this took place with the defence playing outstandingly, whilst the running game played superbly all game, with Knowshon Moreno posting a whopping 224 rushing yards. However, an inability for the defence to perform for the whole match led to an overtime loss.
While it is clear that Denver possesses the keys to make a Super Bowl run, unless the defense begins to fire and the team is able to turn up the intensity in the playoffs, a Super Bowl victory will not be on the cards. The Broncos will not be able to rely on Peyton Manning to drag them through the playoffs to a Super Bowl victory and the entire team will have to fire if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on the second of February 2014.
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