Right now, the Denver Broncos seem to be unbeatable. And now that they are the first seed in the AFC, it will be even harder to beat them.
Denver has won 11 straight and is as hot as can be. During their remarkable streak, Denver has won all games by seven-plus points and their last three games by 17-plus points. The Broncos just steamrolled Kansas City 38-3 to end the season, as Peyton Manning posted an incredible 144.8 passer rating while boosting his touchdown total to 37.
Knowshon Moreno wasn't great, but he scored a touchdown, while Lance Ball and Jacob Hester did well in garbage time. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both caught touchdowns (Decker had two), and both made insane one-handed catches in the end zone.
Kansas City couldn't do anything against the sturdy Bronco defense, which harassed Quinn in the second half. Denver adjusted and started rushing more guys in the second half, and the Chiefs offensive line got confused. Everyone was hitting Quinn, and it was a nightmare for the former Bronco quarterback.
Obviously, the Patriots, Texans and Ravens are nothing like the 2-14 Chiefs, but Denver can apply their lessons from their last three games, one of which was against the Ravens, to the playoffs. Getting to the quarterback helps, and when Denver sends Wesley Woodyard or Keith Brooking and the secondary can hold, it helps.
Champ Bailey has had some struggles, but he is fine and able to guard the best of the best. Chris Harris has been a pleasant surprise, and he is more than capable of covering elite wideouts. Mike Adams and Rahim Moore are also good, so Denver will be able to afford sending more rushers while knowing that the secondary is taking care of business.
What is the Biggest Key to Success in the Playoffs?
Del Rio was able to change up his game plan to lock up the Kansas City game at halftime, but the Broncos will need to harass opposing quarterbacks from the get-go. Joe Flacco, the Baltimore quarterback, is known for a strong arm, but if the Broncos can get in his head and force him to throw the ball quickly, he will be rattled and the whole offense will be thrown off.
Denver is capable of getting away with sending a lot of rushers, and against Flacco, Andrew Luck or Andy Dalton (the quarterbacks Denver has a chance of facing in the second round), they can get away with it. Against Matt Schaub, they can do the same thing, but against Tom Brady, they will have to be more careful with their play-calling.
But that's why the Broncos rank second in defense, right? Because Jack Del Rio knows what to do.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's simpler. They have to get the opponent to respect Moreno and the running game, and Moreno will have to stay patient. He has done a great job of gaining yards on just about every play, proving to be a good short-yardage back with the ability to break loose.
Unless Cincinnati upsets Houston, the Broncos will play Baltimore or Indianapolis in the second round. Prior to their week 16 games, the Colts ranked 30th in run defense, and the Ravens ranked 24th. That means Denver will be able to establish the run early, and they can do so against Cincinnati.
If the Broncos play Cincinnati, there will be no excuses for a loss. Cincinnati has a good run defense, as they held Denver to 70 rushing yards (not including Peyton Manning) on the ground. However, Moreno didn't play in that game, and Peyton Manning made some poor mistakes that he hasn't been making lately (plus, the Broncos weren't anywhere near as hot as they are now). However, despite all that, Denver survived and won by eight on the road.
How Far Will Denver Get?
Oh, and did I mention that Manning has dominated Cincinnati, going 8-0 with five three-plus touchdown games?
Even if they don't do a good job with the run, they will have the crowd and Manning. Manning knows how to read a defense, and he and the Broncos won't be fazed by anything. Riding momentum into the playoffs always help, and the Broncos are confident playing with each other (something they couldn't say when they previously ran into Houston, New England and Cincinnati).
Quick starts were a problem this year, but the team confidence was boosted by a great opening drive and an opening drive touchdown for the second straight week. Every game, from the get-go, the Broncos fans have made Sports Authority Field rock, and Manning and the offense have fed off of that. Opposing quarterbacks and offenses? Not so much.
Getting going early will help against any team, and that's exactly what Denver is doing right now. Expect Mike McCoy and the Broncos to know exactly what to do, and expect them to use the extra week of preparation to get better and learn. The team has gelled together perfectly, though, and they are ready for the challenges of the playoffs.
Basically, Denver just needs to continue to play like they are playing right now. They are a great football team, and they are stacked with Manning rolling on offense and Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rolling on defense. The whole team is confident, but not cocky, due to the veteran presence brought by guys like Manning, Bailey and Brandon Stokley.
There's really nothing more they need to do other than mix up their play calls on offense, establish the run on defense, and intimidate the opposing quarterback from the start with their powerful pass rush. The Broncos are an incredible team—they just have to play like it now.
If they do, the Lombardi Trophy will be back in Denver.