In a roundabout way, Josh McDaniels has the Denver Broncos in position to contend for their first Super Bowl since 2005. McDaniels gave the Broncos parting gifts that keep on giving.
As the result of moves made by McDaniels—both good and bad—the Broncos have Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. All vital pieces to Denver’s current playoff run.
Denver’s last loss was also against McDaniels’ offense in New England in Week 5. Denver’s path to the Super Bowl will also probably run through McDaniels’ offense. It’s funny, but McDaniels’ fingerprints are all over Denver’s playoff run.
McDaniels traded away Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, which resulted in a terrible season and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. With that pick, the Broncos selected Miller, who broke the franchise record for sacks in a season on Sunday against the Browns—he now has 17.5 sacks on the season.
McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow, which made it obvious to John Elway that the Broncos needed a good quarterback. Manning was amazingly available and is now the front-runner to win MVP after throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. Manning is up to 4,355 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season with a game to play.
McDaniels also drafted Thomas and Decker, who caught all three of Manning’s touchdown passes on Sunday and totaled 167 yards receiving. The two wide receivers have combined for 20 of Manning’s 34 touchdown passes and both will likely eclipse the 1,000-yard mark (Decker needs 12 more yards).
McDaniels brought in Mike McCoy, who changed schemes midseason and squeezed every last ounce of production out of Tebow in 2011. McCoy has now seamlessly transitioned to Manning’s offense and should be in line for a promotion this offseason.
McDaniels deserves no credit for Denver’s good fortune after his departure, but it’s still funny to think about where the Broncos would be with Cutler and Marshall. Would the Broncos have been able to roll over the Browns 34-12 without Manning, Miller, Thomas, Decker and McCoy? Would the team be this good? The answer is probably “no.”
The Broncos moved to 12-3 and maintained their No. 2 seed in the AFC with another convincing win, but they are now within striking distance of the No. 1 seed because the Houston Texans lost on Sunday. The Texans will have to beat the Indianapolis Colts and the man that replaced Manning to keep the No. 1 seed.
McDaniels helped the Broncos by accident; Elway’s impact has been much more intentional. Elway signed several free agents other than Manning that continue to make an impact.
The only concern in Denver is if their dynamic return man, Trindon Holliday, can secure the football. Holliday muffed another punt in the fourth quarter that the Broncos luckily recovered. It would be a shame if the Broncos lost a playoff game because of Holliday’s known ball security issues.
The Broncos are quite possibly the league’s best team with a Week 17 game against the league’s worst team. The Kansas City Chiefs did play the Broncos tough in Week 12, but couldn’t muster any offense. That’s not likely to change much when the Chiefs come to Denver next Sunday.