Apparently, the bye week did the Broncos good.
The defense stepped it up and Peyton Manning relied on the running game in a 34-14 blowout win over the Saints on Sunday Night Football. Manning and the offense had more than twice as many yards than the Saints (530 to 252), and the running game had 225 yards compared to New Orleans' measly 51 yards.
The Broncos now sit alone on top of the AFC West, but what must they do to make it down the home stretch and secure a playoff spot?
Peyton Manning's thumb on his throwing arm was banged up Sunday night when it was hit by Saints defense end Martez Wilson's helmet. He shook it off and downplayed it today, with Coach Fox saying, "it's fine." Manning was lucky he finished the game without an injury, but linebacker Joe Mays wasn't so lucky.
Mays suffered a broken left leg in the win, fracturing the fibula above the ankle while blocking on a punt return in the fourth quarter. Mays is out for the remainder of the season.
In order to earn a playoff berth, the Broncos must remain healthy and do anything they can to prevent another season-ending injury like Mays'. The offensive line—and especially the wide receivers—needs to stay healthy in order to support Peyton Manning's offense.
Peyton Needs to Continue Being Old-School Peyton
After throwing three interceptions in the first quarter of the Week 2 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Peyton Manning has been on an offensive tear. You could almost say he's been playing as well as before his surgery. Since that forgettable night in Atlanta, Manning has thrown for 1,827 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception. Manning has also surpassed 300 yards in five straight games and completed 22 of 30 passes Sunday night for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
After this blowout win over the Saints, Peyton Manning and the Broncos only have one more team on the schedule with a winning record (Baltimore). If Manning stays healthy and continues his offensive tear, the Broncos should have no problem finishing the season on top of the AFC West.
Defense Must Stay Strong
For the first time this season, the defense looked as great as the offense. The defense held Brees to only 213 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints were also held to only one third-down conversion.
Wesley Woodyard did the most damage on defense, finishing with 13 tackles, one sack, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and one interception.
I'm still waiting on Von Miller to have a monster breakout game, but it's obvious something big happened between defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and the defense over the bye week. The defensive line is getting comfortable with each other, and the plays.
For the past six quarters, the Broncos' defense has been the best in the NFL, and until Sunday night, hadn't allowed a fourth-quarter point in five games. If the defense can continue to come out week after week like they did against the Saints, the Broncos should have no problem sailing into the playoffs.
These are only three key things the Broncos must do to stay atop the AFC West and earn a playoff berth. When the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in the offseason, Broncos fans had high hopes for a long ride in the playoffs and possibly a Super Bowl. After Week 8, that doesn't seem too far fetched if the Broncos continue to play like they did against the Saints.