With a win on Sunday, the Denver Broncos will have a first-round bye and a home playoff game. The Broncos have won 10 games in a row, are the hottest team in the NFL and have an opportunity that only a few teams get each year—to win the Super Bowl.
The Broncos need to make the most of their opportunities in each game and on each play. In the playoffs, the margin of error is much smaller and the difference between a win and a loss might be just one failure.
Denver has been very good at making the most of their opportunities in 2012 with one notable exception: scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
According to TeamRankings.com, the Broncos have converted on only 55.74 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns.
The Patriots have converted 68.66 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns and the Packers, Falcons, Texans and Seahawks and have all scored touchdowns on an even higher percentage. Only the Patriots have had more opportunities than the Broncos, so at least Denver is getting plenty of opportunities.
Unfortunately, the Broncos have actually been worse over the last three weeks at converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. In the playoffs the opportunities could be less plentiful, which could impact the Broncos’ ability to win games.
Week 17’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is the perfect time to work out some of the remaining bugs. The Broncos had just three trips inside the red zone against the Chiefs in Week 12 and they settled for two field goals and just 10 points. The Chiefs were in the game until the very end as a result of Denver’s missed opportunities.
Fortunate for the Broncos, the Chiefs defense has allowed the third-most red-zone opportunities in the NFL. But once the Broncos get there, the Chiefs will give them a stiff test. Despite their offensive struggles, the Chiefs boast a solid red-zone scoring defense and have allowed opponents to score touchdowns under 50 percent of the time, according to TeamRankings.com.
Despite what people may believe, Peyton Manning is not a perfect quarterback. That’s not to say he isn’t an amazing quarterback, but Manning knows he can do better at converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
The Broncos ran out the clock and kicked a field goal on one red-zone trip at the end of the game against the Chiefs and scored a touchdown on the other. The missed opportunities came on the first drive of the third quarter.
Trindon Holliday took the kickoff out to the 42-yard line, which is great starting field position that the Broncos didn’t have for most of the game. Manning hit Brandon Stokley for 18 yards and Eric Decker for 16 yards on the drive, bringing up a manageable third down at the 15-yard line.
The Broncos needed four yards for a first down at the 11-yard line and Manning threw incomplete for Demaryius Thomas. Matt Prater clanged a 33-yard field goal attempt off the left upright and the Broncos didn’t get any points.
What went wrong? The Broncos had to get only four yards and couldn’t convert. It happens, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos can’t use the play as a learning tool to get better.
Manning is going to throw the ball to Thomas, covered in the left slot by Jalil Brown. Manning also has Stokley wide open in the slot.
Settling for his first read, Manning forces the ball to Thomas even though Stokley is wide open and he has plenty of protection.
The coverage is good and Manning has to put the ball further out in from of Thomas than he would have liked. Thomas attempts to make a diving grab and the ball goes through his hands. It was a tough play, but Thomas has to make the catch when it hits his hands.
Manning missed a wide open Stokley, Thomas didn’t catch the ball and Prater missed the field goal. Three missed opportunities that cost the Broncos between seven and three points. The Broncos can do better, and they get an opportunity to make correction on Sunday in a non-playoff game for the last time this season.