Ranking the Teams with the Best Shot of Derailing the Undefeated Denver Broncos
Considering how dominant the Denver Broncos have looked in their 4-0 start, I know the question has probably crossed into your minds, because it has in mind: Who, if anybody, can beat the Broncos?
By examining Denver's remaining schedule, I will delve into that very question and rank its remaining 10 opponents on their ability to defeat the Mannings, I mean Broncos.
With Peyton Manning being the be-all and end-all of Denver's—well, everything—these teams will be gauged on their ability to stop Manning via their defense or their ability to play keep-away on offense.
Will Manning's No. 1 nemesis, the New England Patriots, nab the top spot? Or, will the quarterback who replaced him prove to be his biggest threat?
Let's find out.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
When: Week 6
Was there any doubt on who would bring up the rear on this list? It's already questionable if Jacksonville can win a game this year, let alone against the league's best team.
There's not much to say about the Jags, awful pretty much sums them up. Last in offense and 30th in defense, I doubt that Jacksonville would cover the spread in this contest.
There's no doubt that Denver will win; the only question is by how much and if any records will be set in the process.
Prediction: Denver 40, Jacksonville 10
9. Oakland Raiders
When: Week 17
Regardless if Manning only plays one quarter in this season finale, he'll muster up enough points to defeat a Raiders squad that has a running back challenging to be the team's leader in touchdown passes.
Furthermore, Oakland won't have a running game to lean on in this contest, courtesy of the Broncos holding them to 49 yards back in Week 3.
It's another easy one for the Broncos.
Prediction: Denver 30, Oakland 14
8. San Diego Chargers
When: Week 10 and 15.
Where: San Diego and Denver
Finally, we get to the NFL portion of Denver's schedule.
As much as I like San Diego's re-invigorated offense under head coach Mike McCoy, they're simply facing the Denver defense at the wrong time.
Had any one of these games occurred in the season's first four weeks, when Von Miller and Champ Bailey were out, I would've liked San Diego's chances at victory much more.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, the scheduling gods had other ideas.
With Miller causing havoc via the pass rush, Philip Rivers won't have much time to throw the football, and in the event he does, Bailey will surely play a role in limiting his receiving options.
What about the San Diego defense you ask? Well, I cue you to the numbers Philadelphia hung on them in Week 2.
Philadelphia had 411 passing yards and 100 yards rushing in route to averaging 8.8 yards per play. Yikes.
What do you think Denver's offense will do?
I'll tell you.
Prediction: Week 10—Denver 38 San Diego 28; Week 15—Denver 42 San Diego 24
7. Washington Redskins
When: Week 8
As it is, Washington looks nothing like the team many envisioned, giving them no chance at derailing the Broncos.
While they have the running back and quarterback to both match Manning point for point and to keep him off the field—that is if they ever go back to using the read-option—the Skins are lacking on the defensive front.
Whether it be the inexperienced players (like David Amerson) or the underachieving veterans (like DeAngelo Hall) in Washington's secondary that Manning targets, he's bound to have success.
The only saving grace for Washington's defense is the fact that with Ryan Clady no longer protecting his blind side, Manning could fall victim to pressure from Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
Nonetheless, you can chalk this up as yet another easy win for the Broncos.
Prediction: Denver 35, Washington 21
6. Tennessee Titans
When: Week 14
Now we enter the competitive section of Denver's schedule.
Call it the "Music City Miracle part two" if you want, but Tennessee seemingly always manages to give Manning-led teams a challenge.
Even with a 6-2 record against the Titans, since 2007, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, three of Manning's wins were one score games.
While it'll take a healthy Jake Locker and pre-2011 performance from Chris Johnson, Tennessee has the type of ball-control offense that could keep Manning on the sideline for long lengths of time.
Still, Tennessee simply isn't talented enough to upset the Broncos in Denver. Expect them to give Denver a game for a half before the Broncos pull away.
Prediction: Denver 34, Tennessee 17
5. Indianapolis Colts
When: Week 7
Surely not many expected the Colts to rise from the ashes so quickly after Manning's departure. But in his emotional homecoming to Indianapolis, Manning will face a team with a legitimate shot at beating him.
With opposing quarterbacks throwing for two touchdowns and six interceptions against Indy's defense, Manning will have no cakewalk moving the football.
In addition to that, the Colts also rank ninth in the league in total offense.
The X-factor in this game is the return of Von Miller from suspension. While Indy has only given up 10 sacks this season, after giving up 41 last season, that could be a result of only ranking 23rd in passing attempts.
I expect Miller to cause havoc in the Indy backfield and pressure Luck enough to make him make a costly mistake down the stretch.
Prediction: Denver 24, Indianapolis 21
4. Kansas City Chiefs
When: Week 11 and 13
Where: Denver and Kansas City
Add in Andy Reid at coach and some improved quarterback play with the mistake-free Alex Smith under center, and the Chiefs have the means to defeat Denver this time.
With a healthy diet of Jamaal Charles and some dink-and-dunk throws from Smith, Kansas City can chew up some clock and keep Manning off the field.
Additionally, with the likes of Eric Berry, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Flowers roaming the secondary, the Chiefs match up well against the bounty of weapons at Manning's disposal.
Factor in the pass-rushing prowess of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali against a Denver offensive line sans Ryan Clady, and Kansas City's defense matches up fairly well here as well.
Wait, there's more. Since the Chiefs, too, are in the AFC West, they'll get two cracks at defeating Manning.
What's not to like?
Well, I'll tell you what—or who—Smith.
While he won't lose the game for the Chiefs, he won't win it either. Even if Kansas City keeps it close, it'll take a great performance from Smith to pull out a victory.
Considering that the Chiefs haven't surrounded Smith with the most talented supporting cast, in addition to Denver possessing a quality defense, I don't envision such a scenario occurring.
Prediction: Week 11—Denver 27 Kansas City 17; Week 13—Denver 24, Kansas City 20
3. Dallas Cowboys
When: Week 5
If the Chiefs hung their ranking on their defense, Dallas hangs its hat on its offense.
Still, the only way they can defeat Denver is if they make their latter star the headliner of their offense.
Seeing that Dallas' defense is vulnerable against the pass, they're going to need Murray to churn some clock in order to keep Manning from dicing it.
Aside from that, the Cowboys are going to need some turnover-free play from Tony Romo.
In playing a vulnerable Broncos defense, minus Von Miller and possibly Champ Bailey, Dallas is being afforded a prime opportunity to put up points and simply can't waste it.
So will Dallas beat Denver? No.
While the writing is on the wall for a possible upset, I just don't trust Jason Garrett to implement the run-first attack it will take to knock off Denver.
Murray runs for 175 yards against St. Louis in Week 3, and Garrett turns around and only feeds him the ball 14 times against San Diego? At this point, I don't know what it'll take for Garrett to consistently run the football.
Because of this, Dallas will fall short in its upset bid.
Prediction: Denver 30, Dallas 21
2. Houston Texans
When: Week 16
Whereas Dallas' ranking suffered because of its lack of commitment to the running game, Houston's place on this list is bolstered by it.
With the two-headed rushing attack of Ben Tate and Arian Foster, Houston has the means to make a spectator out of Manning.
Furthermore, with weapons like Owen Daniels, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson, Denver won't be able to solely focus on stopping the run like they did against another strong rushing team, the Oakland Raiders.
Still, much like Dallas, Houston has a turnover-prone quarterback as a wild card in this matchup.
Seeing that Denver already averages 44.8 points per game, the Broncos aren't the team you want to give additional points to.
Ultimately, though, this contest could come down to who suits up for Denver and how long.
If Denver has home-field advantage in the AFC locked up at this point, it's conceivable that head coach John Fox could opt to rest some starters and limit Manning's snaps.
This especially would hold true if Denver enters the game carrying a loss already, as they truly then would have nothing to play for.
Add in the fact that Houston could need this game to make the playoffs, and I'll take the team who wants and needs it more.
Prediction: Denver 24, Houston 27
1. New England Patriots
When: Week 12
Where: New England
As vulnerable as New England has looked to start the season, the fact remains that they, too, are undefeated.
Mind you that this has been done for the most part without the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen.
So even with the loss of Vince Wilfork, the Patriots we see in this matchup should be substantially better than the unit we've seen thus far.
With its ability to run and throw the football, New England will have its options in attacking the Denver defense.
While the Patriots defense isn't great, with shutdown corner Aqib Talib, it's better than last year's defense that held Manning to 21 points.
Add in the fact that this game is in New England, and I like the Pats to end the Broncos' reign of perfection.
Prediction: Denver 27, New England 31