3 Playoff Matchups That the Denver Broncos Want to Avoid
In all honesty, staying healthy is more important at this point than a first-round bye. While a free ticket to the Divisional round of the playoffs is always a nice treat, a late-season injury to a key player would be far more devastating for the Broncos.
Other than a week 15 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, the remaining schedule for the Broncos is amazingly un-intimidating. They face the Raiders in Oakland before traveling to Baltimore, and then host the Cleveland Browns and the Kansas City Chiefs to close out the season.
Don't be surprised to the see the starters spend more time on the bench in those final two games.
The Denver players and coaches are certainly studying the tapes of the their potential division opponents just as much as they are dissecting the intricate Cleveland Browns' passing attack. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)
Here are three potential playoff matchups that are making John Fox and Peyton Manning cringe.
Facing the Baltimore Ravens on the Road
The Baltimore Ravens are without question a flaky football team, and I would even go as far as calling them overrated. That being said, they are a physical football team with a definite knack for playing their best football on their home field.
The Ravens' fans are loud and proud of their purple and black squad, and Ray Lewis, who will most likely be healthy by the playoffs, is one of the best on-field motivators a team could ask for.
I don't see the Ravens running up the score in this matchup, but they could bring a physicality that will re-injure Peyton Manning's neck and injure the entire offensive line.
Luckily for Denver, the likelihood of this matchup is slim, since the Ravens face a much tougher schedule down the stretch than the Broncos. In addition to playing Denver in Week 15, they must face the New York Giants,Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals.
I see them losing two of those games, (to the Redskins and the Broncos) thereby giving Denver a better record and a higher playoff seed. Given this scenario, a Ravens-Broncos playoff matchup would take place in Denver.
Facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the First Round
It's very likely that we may see a rematch of last year's Wild Card matchup this season. Denver could very likely finish with the No. 3 seed and Pittsburgh is currently pencilled into the sixth spot, meaning that the Steelers would once again travel to Denver for the first round of the playoffs.
Last year, Denver ran away with the victory with a Tim Tebow bomb to DeMaryius Thomas. This season, the Broncos beat the Steelers once again in the first week of the regular season.
While the Broncos definitely have the Steelers number at this point, I'd be very surprised to see Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin come out with the same game plan as in the two previous meetings.
In both games, the Broncos were able to exploit the Steelers pass defense and shut down their "backyard football" offense.
In this potential matchup, I'd expect the Steelers to lighten up on the blitz and pass-protect much better, leaving Manning with fewer holes to throw the football. I'd also expect them to run a Patriots-like offense, favoring short pass-plays over their usual favored ground game. Denver can stop the run, but they struggle to stop passes in the 5-7 yard range.
Pittsburgh would be smelling revenge in this matchup, and that idea should scare Denver.
Facing the New England Patriots
Denver needs to hope that the New England Patriots lose before they need to face them in the playoffs this year, because if there is one team that Denver is not suited to beat, it's the Pats.
New England has ran up the score quickly and early on Denver in their previous two meetings, and while Peyton Manning may love a fourth-quarter comeback as much as a fat kid loves pie, the Broncos can't rely on magic to advance in the playoffs.
Denver has the No. 1 passing offense in the league this year, yet they also have a tendency to start off very slow.
New England, on the other hand, comes firing out of the gate and runs many plays in a short time. Sure, they have a very beatable defense, yet I don't like Denver's odds at all if they get down by two touchdowns early.
If Denver must face New England in the playoffs this year, they better think of the game as a sprint and not a jog and come storming out of the gate. A slow second half will assure a loss for the Broncos against the explosive Patriots.
All of this said, another Brady-Manning Super Bowl matchup would be great for football!