Denver's 37-6 pummeling of their division foes, the Oakland Raiders, on Sunday proved that they are frontrunners in the AFC West and certainly contenders in the NFL. Yet, as proven by the previous two weeks, they are still below the elite teams in the league.
Denver opened up strong with a Week 1 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver fans were justifiably fired up about this win, but the Steelers are not the team their reputation bodes them to be.
Weeks 2 and 3 saw the Broncos suffer losses, albeit close ones, to the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans, respectively. In both those games, Denver went down early and fought back hard, only to come up short by six points in both games.
In Week 4, Denver manhandled the Oakland Raiders, proving that they can certainly be a 10-11 win team, but also affirming that they are still a step below the league's current elite teams.
Balance is not a problem with Denver; they are equally skilled at both defense and offense. Denver has also proven that they can play fourth quarter football with the best. What Denver hasn't shown, which the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans have, is that they can play consistently throughout the game. Great teams come out of the gate strong, score early, and make their opponents play from behind. In their win on Sunday against the Raiders, the Denver Broncos played from ahead for the first time all season, and, not surprisingly, the win came easily.
Sunday also saw the Denver Broncos much more liberally call plays on the offense in their 37-6 win against the Raiders. Quarterback Peyton Manning had much more control over the offense and thrived from the shotgun. Many fans and writers had said that Denver needed to employ this offense more so, as they had success with it in Week 1 against the Steelers, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy certainly got the message on Sunday. This is how the Denver offense needs to be run—quickly and efficiently.
At this point, no one in Denver should doubt that the Broncos will be playing football in the playoffs this year. They are clearly better than the Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the San Diego Chargers have looked strong at times, they are a sloppier team than Denver and have significantly fewer playmakers on both sides of the ball.
It would be ludicrous to say that Denver should throw in the towel on this season and start looking towards the playoffs, but they certainly cannot let Sunday's win overshadow their losses in the weeks prior. Denver will be facing teams as good as the Falcons and the Texans in the playoffs, and they need to meticulously study those game tapes and figure out how to beat teams of that caliber.
Denver is clearly one of the top-10 teams in the NFL, yet if they truly want to make a playoff run and sniff out the Super Bowl, they need to get just a little bit better. 2012 can be a great year for the Broncos, but they cannot be too giddy with their wins against lesser opponents. Ultimately, teams like the Raiders will not be the final hurdle.