After improving to 10-3 on Thursday Night Football, the white-hot Denver Broncos might just be Super Bowl favorites.
With new quarterback Peyton Manning, Denver has won eight straight games and nine of its last 10. Things are going well for the veteran passer and his new teammates, as Manning has posted a passer rating of 103.1 or better in seven of his last 10 games.
Denver’s defense is a top-six run-stuffing unit and can get after the passer with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. It is allowing 19.8 points per game (good for eighth in the NFL) and has not surrendered more than 24 points in any game throughout the life of the Broncos’ current winning streak.
Recent Super Bowl history favors teams that were hot entering the playoffs like the New York Giants (2011) and Green Bay Packers (2010). Although they have been on a tear since mid-October, the Broncos fit that description.
Denver will travel to play the Baltimore Ravens—who may potentially be returning Ray Lewis—before returning home for matchups with the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos already locked up the AFC West and have some control of their playoff-seeding destiny.
The New England Patriots and the Ravens are 9-3.
Home-field advantage is particularly useful to the Broncos. Denver’s altitude has been problematic for opponents (the Broncos are 5-1 at home), and the team itself is one of the better squads in the NFL (5-2 on the road).
As the Broncos’ seeding gets more favorable—they were fourth prior to Thursday night—they can count on hosting more rounds of the playoffs, should they advance. The chance that the No. 1-seeded Houston Texans (11-1) fall below Denver is minimal, virtually assuring that the road to the Super Bowl for the Broncos travels through Houston.
But Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers chucked six touchdowns on the Texans at Reliant Stadium (Week 6) and Jacksonville Jaguars fill-in Chad Henne threw four of his own in Houston (Week 11). The two QBs combined for 10 TDs and no picks—and it’s safe to say that Manning is at least better than one of them.
The big game will be played in Manning’s hometown of New Orleans. It would be an especially exciting venue for the field general, but he should be trusted to perform on the gargantuan stage.
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