Denver Broncos: Are the Broncos the Team to Beat in the AFC?

DJ SiddiqiCorrespondent IIIDecember 18, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos huddles up with teammates before a play against the Baltimore Ravens in the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Denver Broncos won, 34-17.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Broncos are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race. They are on a nine-game winning streak, clinched the AFC West in Week 13 and control their own destiny as far as attaining a first-round bye is concerned.

They are coming off of a 34-17 dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens, who they have been competing with for position in the AFC playoff race for much of the season. The score is not indicative of just how much of a blowout the game really was, as the Broncos were up 31-3 before the Ravens scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand.

With the Ravens in a tailspin having lost three straight games—two of which were to teams with backup quarterbacks—Baltimore stands at 9-5 and rather than being occupied with talk of being the best team in the AFC, they're more concerned right now with clinching their own division with the Bengals right behind them at 8-6.

That leaves New England and Houston as the two other teams under consideration for "Team to beat in the AFC".

The Patriots no longer control their own destiny as far as clinching a first-round bye in the playoffs after losing to San Francisco 38-31 on Sunday night. The Patriots stand at 10-4 with their previous seven-game winning streak having been snapped.

The Texans still have the AFC's best mark at 12-2 and obviously control their own destiny as far as the No. 1 seed is concerned. It's interesting to note that the Broncos still have an outside shot of clinching the No. 1 seed, but would need the Texans to lose their final two games, while Denver would have to win their final two games in order for that to happen.

New England and Houston both defeated Denver earlier in the season, so therefore they both hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos.

Denver is obviously the hottest team of the bunch. In fact, they are the hottest team in the NFL. The Broncos are currently in the midst of a nine-game winning streak. The next closest team is the Washington Redskins, who are in the middle of a five-game winning streak.

Does that make Denver the team to beat in the AFC?

New England was down 31-3 to the Niners on Sunday night, and before making a rally in the second half they were completely dominated as Tom Brady was flustered by the Niners' defense.

This was a week after New England throttled the Houston Texans 42-14 in front of a national television audience and looked like clearly the best team in the NFL.

It can be argued that the Broncos have the most complete team in the AFC, even with the injury to Willis McGahee. Knowshon Moreno is averaging nearly 100 yards a game since stepping into the starting lineup four games ago. The Broncos are second in the league in points per game, averaging 29.2 per game, while on defense they're fifth in the league, giving up 19.6 points per game.

That is scary good.

The Patriots rank first in the league in points per game with 36.1. But on defense, they're giving up 22.5 points per game, which ranks 17th in the league.

The Texans are more well-balanced despite blowout losses to elite teams such as the Packers and the Patriots. They rank third in the league on offense, scoring 28.1 points per game. On defense, they rank seventh, allowing 20.0 points per game.

It's also interesting to note that the Patriots rank first in the league in giveaway/takeaway differential, while the Texans rank second in the league. 

The Broncos rank 18th in that department.

Which begs the question, "Who is the team to beat in the AFC?".

We're entering Week 16 with two games left to go in the regular season. With the Broncos playing home dates versus the Browns (5-9) and the Chiefs (2-12) it looks like Denver has the inside track to clinch the No. 2 seed while clinching a first-round bye in the process.

The Broncos are the hottest team in the league, with an offense that is hard to stop and a defense that seems to get better with each passing week.

Entering Week 16, the Broncos are the team to beat in the AFC.

Will they be the AFC team to beat come playoff time?

As recent games have proven, that has yet to be determined.