2012 Denver Broncos Shaping Up to Be Best Contender Since Elway's Days

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2012 Denver Broncos Shaping Up to Be Best Contender Since Elway's Days
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As we stand nine games through the season, the Denver Broncos have a record of 6-3. If the playoffs ended today, the Broncos would merely be the AFC's fourth seed.

Not that impressed yet, right?

When you look purely at the Broncos' record, whom they've beaten and whom they've lost to, it might shock some people that the 2012 Denver Broncos are the biggest threat to win a Super Bowl title in Denver since John Elway was throwing touchdown passes to Rod Smith and Eddie McCaffrey.

But they are.

The Broncos have yet to beat a truly elite opponent. You can argue that their landmark win of the season came against the Chargers in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium with the Broncos down 24-0 at the end of the first half. What proceeded that lousy first half was a 35-0 unanswered run that led to a 35-24 Broncos victory.

No doubt that has been Denver's defining point of the season. It marked a turnaround of epic proportions. Because of that victory in San Diego, the Broncos are in the midst of a four-game winning streak going into their second and final matchup with the Chargers in Week 11.

But obviously the Broncos have yet to defeat the likes of an Atlanta, Houston or New England—in fact, the Broncos lost all three games against "elite" opponents.

Most of Denver's six victories—versus the Steelers, Raiders, Chargers, Saints, Bengals and Panthers—were against at best, mediocre competition.

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Why are the 2012 Broncos the best contender that we've seen in Denver since Elway won his last Super Bowl title?

Although this team has its flaws—and it does have a few, namely, with fumbles (12) and lack of rushing yards per attempt (3.8)—it is the most star-studded team the Broncos have had since they had 10 players go to Hawaii in the Pro Bowl following the 1998 season.

They have potentially the best quarterback in the game today in Peyton Manning. Is he a slightly different player than he was pre-neck surgery? Of course. Manning doesn't go for the deep ball very often. But he overcompensates for that by playing smarter than ever and punishing defenses through the short and intermediate passing game.

When you take a look at Manning's statistics, he is on pace for either career highs or at least close to it in several major passing categories. Through nine games of the season, Manning is on pace for 4809 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, 409 completions and a 108.0 quarterback rating.

To put those numbers into perspective, that would be the highest amount of passing yards Manning has ever thrown for in a season. The touchdowns, completions and the passer rating would rank second in his career.

Outside of Manning, Denver also has playmakers littered all over the field. I'm not even just talking about Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker—I'm talking about the defense.

Other than the usual suspects such as Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, the Broncos have young players such as Tony Carter and Chris Harris forcing turnovers. These guys are not even starters, yet they are consistently making plays on a weekly basis to help the Broncos win games.

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The Broncos currently rank second in scoring by putting up 30.1 PPG, while ranking 10th in defense in allowing 21.0 PPG.

To put that further into perspective, the last time the Broncos ranked as high as second in scoring offense while ranking in the top 10 in defense was in 1998—the last year that Denver won the Super Bowl.

The team still has major issues to rectify. The turnovers are a problem. They may not be a problem against teams such as the Panthers and Bengals, but obviously, if Willis McGahee is fumbling a couple of times a game versus the likes of the Texans and the Ravens, the Broncos won't last long in the playoffs.

Having said that, there has been no Denver team since Elway retired that has possessed this much of a contender feel than the 2012 Broncos.

The 2005 Broncos are the only team that comes close. They finished the season 13-3 and even hosted the AFC Championship game versus Pittsburgh, but they didn't have a quarterback who was even remotely close to being as good as Peyton Manning.

No offense to Jake Plummer.

The 2012 Broncos have all of the ingredients to win the Super Bowl.

The question isn't: "Do they have the best chance of any Broncos team since Elway retired to win the Super Bowl?"

The question is: Will they?

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