As expected, the Denver Broncos handled their division rivals, the San Diego Chargers in Week 11. Despite only winning by seven points due to a late touchdown grab by San Diego's Donario Alexander, the Broncos controlled the entire game and never let San Diego smell a victory.
The Broncos continue to look like a more complete football team by the week, with the defense playing strong and becoming a more-than-ample compliment to the high-powered offense led by quarterback Peyton Manning.
With six games remaining, the Broncos face the Kansas City Chiefs twice, the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. As I said in my Broncos playoff column before this week, the toughest of those games will without question be the Baltimore Ravens. For argument's sake, let's assume that the Broncos lose that game and win the rest, resulting in a 12-4 record and an uncontested lead in the very weak AFC West.
This brings us to the playoffs, where Denver will likely hold either the two or four seed in the AFC. The two seed would obviously be ideal, as they would be granted a first-round bye and a week to rest and recoup.
If Denver fails to obtain the two seed, however, they will face one of the Wild Card teams in the first round of the playoffs. It's fair to assume that they will either be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Indianapolis Colts in this scenario.
The Colts are playing very good football and are a very motivated young team, yet they are certainly the easier matchup between the two. Since they will likely be the six seed and Pittsburgh the five, Denver will likely face the Steelers, who they beat 31-19 in Week 1.
The Steelers have played much stronger football since their Week 1 loss, yet they have also been beleaguered with injuries. Their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for at least two more weeks with a shoulder injury, and as was proven by their loss to the Baltimore Ravens last night, their offense is stagnant without Roethlisberger behind center.
The Steelers, baring anymore setbacks, should be healthy come the playoffs, and they will prove a trying opponent for the Broncos. The Steelers boast three strong running backs in Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Issac Redman, and all three are strong runners who are tough to bring down.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace would also prove a lofty task for cornerback Champ Bailey, and he is one of the fastest receivers in the game. Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller round out an offensive attack that sometimes gets overshadowed by the deafening Steelers defense. Said defense has allowed the fewest passing yards this season, and it would certainly be an intriguing matchup for Peyton Manning and Denver's No. 1-ranked pass offense.
As is the case with most NFL playoff matchups, this one would be a tough matchup to predict and would almost certainly come down to the wire. I'd give Denver the upper hand right now, but they'll certainly have their hands full if they do face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.
One thing I do feel comfortable writing in pen, however, is that Denver will be playing playoff football. To argue against that at this point seems unreasonable, unless you think the Kansas City Chiefs are going to go on a late-season run.
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