After a dominant 44-13 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City, and Steelers and Ravens losses, the magic number is two. And fortunately for the Broncos, that is the same number of games they have left against the dregs of the AFC West, the Raiders and the Chiefs, both at home in Denver.
The Broncos have to take care of those two games in Week 15 and 17, and they should be OK for the playoffs.
At 8-4, the Broncos are a game ahead of Jacksonville (7-5), and two games ahead of the Steelers, Ravens and Dolphins (all 6-6). It should take a 10-6 record for the Broncos to guarantee themselves a spot in this year’s playoffs. That is unless the Steelers or Ravens win out, and the Jaguars finish at least 10-6, in which case it would come down to a tiebreaker scenario between the Jags and the Broncos.
The Broncos are also still just a game behind the Chargers (9-3), and with each team’s remaining schedule, the division could go either way.
But that can all work itself out in the weeks ahead. Now lets take a look back at the romp in K.C.
As The Denver Post sports columnists insisted all week, the Broncos success started on the ground. Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno combined for 199 yards on 36 carries, and Moreno ran in for two scores. Buckhalter and Moreno established an effective run game early, which set up Kyle Orton the his receivers for an efficient day, netting 180 yards and two touchdowns on 25 pass attempts.
It’s no secret that the Broncos will be most successful when they can run the ball effectively to set up the passing game. And that’s all fine when you’re facing a Chiefs team that ranks 27th in the league against the run, having surrendered 1,725 yards and 4.4 yards/carry on the year.
But what happens when you face the run-stoppers?
It didn’t work against the Steelers, ranked first in the league against the rush (933 yards, 3.6 yards/carry). Nor did it work against the Ravens, ranked sixth (1,168 yards, 3.5 yard/carry).
Fortunately for the Broncos, of their four games left in the regular season, only one will be against a team in the top ten against the run, and that’s Week 16 against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Eagles rank seventh in the league, having given up 1,186 yards on 3.8 yards/carry.
And of the teams left in the AFC playoff picture, only the Bengals rank in the top ten against the run. The other three Wild Card contenders (Steelers, Ravens and Jaguars) also rank first, sixth and eleventh, respectively).
So depending on how the playoff picture shapes up by the end of the season, the Broncos may avoid facing a major run-stopper until the Divisional or Conference Championship round of the playoffs.
But all that is beside the point unless the Broncos make the playoffs. After two consecutive wins against the Giants and Chiefs, the momentum is on their side. It’ll be interesting to see how that carries into this week’s match up with the undefeated Colts at Indy.
My sports gut tells me that the Colts won’t go undefeated this year. With a rookie head coach and an undefeated Saints team in the NFC South, it just seems like too much. I know that is a very weak argument, or maybe not even an argument, but like I said, it’s a sports gut thing. Granted my sports gut has been wrong many times before, as I’m sure some of you will be eager to point out, so take it for what it is.
That said the Colts face the Jags, Jets and Bills to close out, so the Broncos are the most realistic chance to spoil perfection. Plus, the last team to finish a regular season undefeated was the ’07 Patriots when Broncos current coach Josh McDaniels was the Pats’ offensive coordinator. Again, very empty argument, but McDaniels is way too proud to let Colts cruise to 16-0.
Add that to the fact that the Broncos’ secondary, second in the league against the pass, is infinitely better than the Broncos’ defenses that Peyton Manning has shredded in the past, and the Colts will have three more weeks to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (they need just one more win), and I think we could have the recipe for an upset in Indy.