As someone who loves the growing field of NFL sabermetrics, I hate this season. Despite spending quite a bit more to make the team more talented, the players aren't performing to their contracts. Injuries plague key players and regression from others has also hurt. Throw in questionable coaching and this season seems like a disappointment.
BUT a disappointing season for this Broncos team is still very good. Broncos should win the division unless some terrible collapse happens. 12 wins seems the most likely outcome and they have almost locked up the 1st or 2nd seed, though both the Broncos and Pats have tough schedules ahead, but the Broncos should have at least one home game in the post-season.
This is a good team, more talented than the past two years but failing to reach the apogee of either. That doesn't matter though for most fans, and the Broncos should be the one of the top two teams in the AFC. If they can get the #1 seed instead of going to New England, they should be the favorite to come out of the conference. When they are clicking, they can beat any team by a mile and even on bad days they can still beat most teams. The Broncos should go 12-4 and get one of the top two seeds. They are a very talented team and are a force to be reckoned with. Regardless of my feelings of how the team was brought together and how the players and coaches are performing individually, this is a Super Bowl contending team, period, end of story.
I am much higher about this Broncos team at the 3/4 mark than I was at the 1/2 mark. Their new offensive identity has me pumped up. They are finally playing like a Super Bowl championship team instead of a regular season team. Make no mistake about it, that is a HUGE difference!
As far as playoff seeding goes, I see the Broncos finishing with a 13-3 record, which is identical to what I see the Patriots having which means that the road to the Super Bowl will run through New England unless an upset happens in the playoffs. Unlike years past though, if the Broncos keep balance on offense and a ferocious defense, they can absolutely march into Foxboro and devastate the Pats and their fans. Bring it on!!!
What I'm looking for these final 9 weeks (all the way to the Super Bowl) is sound football in all four phases.
Phase 1 - Offense: I want to keep seeing balance between the running and passing game. I'd like to see better than 50% passing out of Peyton, cause hell, we had a 50% passer with the NFL's #1 rushing attack 3 years ago. If this team wants to hoist up another Lombardi trophy, they need a better passer than Tebow (50% passer), so yeah, Peyton needs to be more "on" than he was last week. Listening to Joel Dreesen on the radio has me concerned because he said the players themselves know that Peyton doesn't play well in the cold, which we saw with said 50% completion rate. However, he's Peyton Freaking Manning, so I have no doubts that if we keep a balanced offense, that only a fool would dare that man to beat them while gearing to stop the run.
Phase 2 - Defense: The defense was opportunistic last week, and I'd love to see them continue their aggression going forward. Jack Del Rio was uncharacteristically blitzy last week, much to the fans delight. Before last week, the Broncos ranked #31 in the NFL in blitz frequency. After last week, they crept up to #29 (Seahawks #28) in blitz frequency. I'd love to see them keep their foot on the gas and get after the quarterbacks while allowing our great cover corners to play man and cover. We'll be getting Travathan back which will help out our turnover opportunities greatly. Look for more nickle packages with Marshall and Travathan with man to man corners and our snarling defensive front to take the baton from the offense and properly close out games.
Phase 3 - Special Teams: Honestly, I'm completely fine having a kickoff specialist. Special teams are important, so I will never believe that whoever the last "active" player on Sunday that won't play is more valuable than McManus' ability to send kickoffs into the 2nd row. Remember, it took Matt Prater a few years to become a good field goal kicker, so lets not give up on this kid yet. Having him kickoff is good for now, but lets keep having him practice FGs the rest of the season and into the offseason before we talk about his future with us.
Phase 4 - Coaching Staff: Thank you, thank you, thank you John Fox, Adam Gase, and Jack Del Rio. Thank you for pulling a Patrick Roy and putting your balls on the table. We've all been screaming for change, and it looks like our cries are being heard. They are sticking to a balanced attack and they are dialing up more aggression on defense. If they keep this consistent and prepare our team each week, then we'll run out of things to gripe about.
Just keep the pedal to the metal and Pat Bowlen will have to build a bigger trophy case!
After the Broncos suffered their worse loss of the season to the Rams I was very doubtful. I wrote a post about the Broncos not trusting their players. It was clear there was a lot to work on, and much of it was them putting too much on Peyton. When Peyton had a bad game, the whole team had a bad game. Well, after week 13, it seems like the Broncos are finally starting to take my advice (maybe Fox or Manning are fans of MHR??).
The offensive line is finally in their groove. The Broncos seem to have gotten their penalties under control, only committing 5 last week compared to 12 against the Raiders. A lot of this has to do with comfort in their position after the reshuffle experiment. The defense is finally being allowed showcase their speed and talent by playing more aggressively, and guess what? It works! Our special teams are making risky plays! We have depth at kicker! And last but definitely not least: our run game is giving me serious Terrell Davis nostalgia. The Broncos made moves to start fixing all of the problems that critics were pointing out after the Patriots loss followed by the embarrassing Rams loss (seriously, maybe they do read our articles).
But the most benefit that the Broncos got from the Chiefs game was a blessing in disguise. Peyton Manning had a bad game. He had a 50% passer rating, he overthrew the ball on countless occasions. Granted, it was cold and windy, but the fact is that the Broncos didn't go in with their regular "just give it to PFM, he will figure it all out and save us" route. The Broncos pulled out an impressive win regardless of a poor PFM performance in the cold. And against a 7-4 team on the road no less. This game proved that the Broncos have talent to win when they use it. It gave the Broncos players and coaches the push in confidence that they have so desperately needed to allow more creative plays so that we can dominate in each area on the field.
Pending any injuries, if the Broncos continue playing with this strategy, I have no doubt they will go into the playoffs and win out. They have the talent and now the confidence to play above the level of every team, including the Patriots. I see the Broncos going 13-3 and defeating the Patriots in a close game at Foxboro in the AFC championship. Then they will go into the Super Bowl playing the Green Bay Packers and win another nail-biter, lead by C.J. Anderson for what seems like a remake of Super Bowl XXXII!
The Broncos have been a roller coaster ride this season from where I sit. They've rarely played complete games, we've run the ball to rarely, not blitzed enough, employed a kicker who couldn't make field goals, had horrid lapses in 3rd down defense, and I'm sure another handful of problems I'm not thinking of.
That being said the promise I see with this team at the three quarter mark in the season is growth. We've ran the ball well for two games in a row. We've finally found some semblance of continuity on our offensive line. We have won when Manning wasn't on his game. This team is growing. They are getting better week to week and it is exactly the right time of the year to see it.
We are going to make the playoffs. Keep in mind that's a really big deal. I think in the span of two years our fan base has been getting a little spoiled. Sure, we should expect big things, but don't take for granted that our team is performing highly enough to make it to the playoffs. Treasure it. We won't make it that far every year.
Thus far, this Broncos team has shown numerous sides to themselves this season. For one, there's the team we're all familiar with from last season, dominating teams with offensive prowess (vs. IND, vs. ARZ, vs. OAK). Secondly, there's been the team that isn't tough enough to win big games (@ NE, @ SEA). Third, there's been the team that truly does not look like a playoff contender in the least bit (@STL, @NYJ). And finally, there's the team that we've seen the last couple weeks, the team that actually looks like a playoff contender, with the ability to shake off some adversity or tough circumstances and still win. Two weeks ago, the Broncos defeated a Miami team that got out to a hot start and refused to lay down, even once Denver went up two scores on them. Last week was the most telling game of Denver's progress, though, and needs to be the team that shows up every single game. Last week the Broncos went into a hostile environment in Kansas City, against a tough divisional opponent who had won five of their last six games, and were just one game back of the Broncos in the standings. Denver walked into KC and cruised to a 29-16 win that never felt that close. Yes, Manning struggled in a tough road game again, completing just 50% of his passes, but the Broncos rallied around a strong running game that looks unstoppable right now, and behind a stifling defense, holding their opponent to under 17 points for the first time all season.
All that being said, there is a lot of promise within this Broncos team, especially over the last two weeks. With two tough wins under their belt, and proving that they can win even when Manning struggles, Denver is looking like a true Super Bowl contender again. The keys moving forward will be: 1) a continuation of balance within the offense, setting up the pass with the run, and vice versa; 2) rising above injuries that may occur, as they have already; 3) continuing to be more aggressive from a coaching/strategy standpoint; 4) taking nothing for granted, and putting forth equal effort against any caliber of opponent.
The road to the Super Bowl is never an easy one, and it's hard to assume that any team, including the Broncos are a lock for a berth or victory in the big game; however, if Denver continues their balanced attack, aggressive defense, and continues to receive contributions from depth players, they certainly have what it takes to travel down this road confidently.
Remember that 1997 playoff game when the Jaguars bumped the Broncos off the Super Bowl track that seemed like such a sure thing for us?
Of course you do.
Aside from Super Bowls XXII, XXIII, XXIV, and uh, XLVIII, it was one of the most depressing losses in our storied history of soul-crushing defeats. But I distinctly remember the following year when we made it to the playoffs as the Wild Card - and I was worried. Had to face Jacksonville again. Didn't want to play away. Didn't like not having a bye week.
But my brother assured me it was the best thing: "We're better when we have to fight our way in," he said. At the time I was happy to hear anything with a positive spin, so I clung to it.
Remember what happened that year?
Of course you do - won at Jacksonville, won at Kansas City, won at Pittsburgh. And then...beat Green Bay in a Super Bowl nobody thought we could win. It was THE BEST win in our storied history of amazing - and surprising - victories.
My point is... this year reminds me of that season in some ways. We came into this season with super high expectations - a high-powered offense with new weapons, a tougher defense with our studs back plus new firepower. And then this season when we didn't beat every team down - and even lost some we never imagined - our faith in the season outcome waned. But I like our chances this year. Like my brother told me 17 years ago, it's better when we have to fight. To go back to the Super Bowl - and win - we need to know how to fight, how to come from behind, how to win on either side of the ball, how to play tough outside of Mile High.
We had plenty of adversity last season with suspensions and injuries, but our offense scored so many points, we masked a lot of our weaknesses until the big game. This year our weaknesses have been exposed, and we're dealing with them.
I think we win out despite two tough road games in San Diego and Cincinnati. If we're at home for the playoffs, awesome. If we're away, awesome.
I believe this team has all the tools. Manning needs to be above average but doesn't have to be perfect. The O-line needs to keep doing its job every play. C.J. needs to keep running his little 5'8" heart out. And our defense Can. Not. Let. Up.
But if we use 16 games to figure that out, I'll be happy, because then I'm confident we'll be able to win four more. Remember our goal for 2015?
Of course you do.
It's taken the Broncos almost the entire season to find balance and a stifling defense but it appears as if they have a complete team.
The Broncos will run the table finishing 13-3. The Patriots will drop at least one more game. Denver wins the #1 seed and the road to the Super Bowl goes through Mile High.
I'm reasonably optimistic that the Broncos will be able to finish with a 13-3 record and challenge NE for the #1 seed. The reasons for optimism:
1)The running game has finally come alive which will force opposing defensives to open things up for Manning & his receivers.
2)The defense is showing some fire and hard-hitting that should begin to stifle opposing offenses.
3)We have Peyton f-ing Manning.
4)It would be helpful to remember that two of the Broncos three losses came during a brutal 3-game road trip in which the Broncos went to the east coast, then to the west coast then to the middle of the country. By the time they hit St. Louis, they simply looked tired.
5)While we have a tough remaining schedule, it is not insurmountable:
- Buffalo -- the Bills are 3-2 on the road, 4-5 vs the AFC and 0-2 vs the AFC West.
- @San Diego -- this will be a dogfight (as in aerial combat, not as in Michael Vick). The Chargers are 5-1 at home but are only 2-2 versus the AFC West (and both of those wins came against the Raiders).
- @Cincinnati -- another dogfight. The Bengals are 4-1-1 at home and 5-3 versus the AFC.
- Oakland -- it's the Raiders, need I say more?
Denver will enter the playoffs as either the #1 or #2 seed and will go far in the postseason.