Denver Broncos Who Will Play Crucial Roles Down the Season's Home Stretch
The Denver Broncos are currently at their cruising altitude and the pilot has just turned off the fasten seat belt sign.
With just six games remaining on its schedule, Denver has a comfortable three-game lead and also own the tie-breaker over the closest team in the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers. These final games will determine the Broncos' eventual playoff seed and whether they can procure home-field advantage as well.
In the coming weeks, there are players that will need to step in, make key plays and keep this Denver team motivated and on their toes down the stretch.
Here's a look at some of the guys on both sides of the ball that will have a big hand in the Denver Broncos' attempt to jockey for a ticket to the big show.
Peyton Manning, QB
Paging captain obvious.
While it is pretty unnecessary to go over the importance of Peyton Manning to the 2012 Denver Broncos, it would have made no sense to leave him off this list.
Bronco fans are well aware of the fact that Denver has no plan B when it comes to the quarterback position. If Manning goes down for any amount of time, it will certainly have a negative effect on the rest of the season.
Manning's backup, rookie Brock Osweiler, has had no playing time so far in the regular season. However, due to the lack of competition in the division, Osweiler is capable of doing enough to still get this team to the playoffs.
There is only one team left on Denver's schedule in the top half of the league against the pass—the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have so many other issues on both sides of the ball that we shouldn't be too concerned about that particular matchup if the situation were to arise.
The loss of Peyton Manning would not necessarily mean an end to the season; however, it is doubtful that Brock Osweiler has the knowledge or ability at this point to lead the Broncos to victory in a playoff game.
Wesley Woodyard, WLB
Wesley Woodyard is enjoying a monster season for the Broncos, leading the defense in tackles with 88 (54 of them solo) through the first 11 weeks of the season.
Originally filling in for the suspended D.J. Williams, Woodyard has emerged this season as a motivator on the Broncos' defense and has become a guy you can count on to make key plays.
He will be counted on to deliver in both games against the Chiefs, as they currently are ranked as the fourth-best team in offense on the ground. He will also have his hands full in Week 13 against rookie running sensation Doug Martin, whose ground game this season has the Buccaneers ninth in the NFL in rushing so far in 2012.
If Woodyard can continue to make those essential tackles on the field as well as contribute to the opposing team's turnovers, he will be instrumental in the playoff run for these Denver Broncos down the stretch.
Running Back Commitee
Since it is still unclear what the Broncos' exact plan will be following the injury to starting running back Willis McGahee, for the sake of this article, we are going to assume it will be a running back-by-committee situation for the remainder of the season.
The Broncos are currently sitting with three active guys on the roster: rookie Ronnie Hillman, special teams guy Lance Ball and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, who has not been dressing for games and has been recovering from ACL surgery.
Since none of these three guys have shown that they are capable or ready to handle the bulk of the carries, they will probably all share the load and will be called upon for 15 or so plays a game. With a guy like Peyton Manning under center, all these guys really need to do is execute a few decent rushing plays to balance out the offense.
Lucky for the Broncos, four out of the five teams remaining on their schedule have run defenses in the basement of the league. The Raiders, Browns, Chiefs and Ravens are ranked 23rd, 24th, 25th and 27th, respectively, against the run thus far this season.
The game that will be crucial for these guys in the backfield is in Week 13 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to the Mile High City. Tampa Bay is very stingy against the run and it will certainly be tough sledding for this committee of running backs.
Chris Harris and Tony Carter, CB
Although Champ Bailey is on the tail end of his career, he is a highly respected cornerback in the NFL and teams still plan their offenses to avoid throwing to Champ's side of the field.
Enter Chris Harris and Tony Carter. Both have been filling in for starter Tracy Porter, who has been sidelined because of symptoms similar to those of a seizure he suffered over the summer.
Both guys have seen success on the field, snagging two interceptions a piece this season. Harris and Carter were also each able to convert one of those picks for a touchdown.
These guys will need to keep playing at the same level for the remainder of the season in order for this Denver team to keep the momentum moving forward. Keeping the defense off the field and fresh will allow the Bronco offense to make plays, get ahead early and work toward a higher playoff seed down the stretch.
Von Miller, LB
Von Miller has been a straight-up sack machine so far this season.
He has been in a three-way battle with Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt for the top spot in the league for sacks with 13 through Week 11 with six games still remaining. To put it in perspective, Miller finished out the 2011 season with 11.5.
He will certainly come in handy in Week 16 when Denver faces a Cleveland offensive line that has given up the fourth-least amount of sacks this season and ranks the seventh-best overall as an offensive line.
Miller and his sack dances, which he has been performing to benefit his charity, have provided a phenomenal spark for this Bronco defense and should continue to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks through the remainder of the regular season and beyond.
The current record holder for sacks in a season is Michael Strahan with 22.5. Can Von Miller continue at the same pace and take over that NFL record? With six games left and 10 sacks needed to attain that record; it is certainly doable.
Trindon Holliday, WR
Holliday has made a solid impact on Denver's special teams since being picked up off the waiver wire before the Chargers game in Week 6.
Since becoming a Bronco, Holliday has scored two touchdowns on special teams, taking both a punt and a kick return to the house in back-to-back games, with one of them being the longest in franchise history.
Holliday has ignited the Bronco special teams and has played a vital role in acquiring good field position for Manning and the offense since signing with the squad.
Moving forward, he will need to continue to find holes and hang onto the football for dear life. He has had an issue with putting the ball on the ground and will need to get that under control in these remaining weeks for Denver to garner the home-field advantage through the playoffs that they are seeking.
If the Broncos run the table and win out the rest of the season, Trindon Holliday will be undefeated this season, since Houston did not lose while he was on their roster for the first five games.
Is Trindon Holliday Denver's lucky charm? While it is debatable, he is certainly an asset and a great addition to this strong, well-rounded Bronco team.