The Denver Broncos enter their bye week in Week 9.
It's a much-needed bye week, as players such as Peyton Manning, Julius Thomas and Champ Bailey are all in need of an extra week to recover from ailing injures. Manning has injuries to both of his ankles since the Broncos' victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6. Thomas twisted his ankle in Week 8's victory over the Washington Redskins, and Bailey continues to recover from a nagging foot injury.
The Broncos are 7-1 entering their bye. They have the second-best record in the league, just one game behind their AFC West rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs, who stand at 8-0 entering their Week 9 meeting with the Buffalo Bills.
Denver is coming off a 45-21 victory over the Redskins, which saw the Broncos reel off 38 straight points—31 in the fourth quarter alone—in winning their seventh game of the season.
Quarterback Peyton Manning is on pace to break the single-season touchdown and passing yardage records, and the Broncos have four receivers who are on pace to eclipse 900 receiving yards this season—Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker.
So why the cause for concern in Mile High? Why are some still unhappy with the Broncos through the first half of the season?
One of the reasons for concern is due to the high expectations this team set during their 6-0 start. The team dominated the opposition. Yes, there were hiccups against teams such as the Jaguars, and there was the unimpressive showing of the defense in allowing 48 points to the Dallas Cowboys, but the team's 6-0 start was as impressive as any other team in NFL history—the offense averaged an NFL-record 44.1 points per game.
The second reason is the fact that Denver isn't as invincible as we once thought after losing in convincing fashion to the Indianapolis Colts 39-33 in Week 7. Combine this loss with the most recent victory over Washington, and the Broncos offense with Peyton Manning has started to show cracks in the armor.
In Week 7's loss to the Colts, the Broncos had 10 drives that didn't result in a single first down. Entering Week 7, the Broncos averaged just three three-and-out drives per game.
In Week 8's victory over the Redskins, Denver entered halftime with just seven points. After their first offensive drive, which resulted in a touchdown early on in the first quarter, the Broncos offense mustered just three first downs for the rest of the first half versus a Redskins defense that ranks 31st in the NFL (32.7 points allowed per game).
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Over the last two weeks, the offense has shown major inconsistencies, combined with Manning's slipping play—the four-time NFL MVP has thrown four interceptions with two fumbles. Over the first six games of the season, Manning had thrown just two interceptions.
Finally, the last reason is the impressive play of the undefeated Chiefs—who just so happen to be a major divisional rival of the Broncos. Behind a league-leading defense that is allowing just 12.2 points per game, the Chiefs remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.
Due to the Super Bowl aspirations that a team like the Broncos have and the fact they're one game behind their AFC West rivals, comparisons naturally spring up—with the Broncos coming up on the short end of the stick.
Just three weeks ago, the Broncos were the team to beat. The team out of Mile High was as invincible as possible, and Denver was seemingly destined to play in the Super Bowl.
Entering their bye week, are the Broncos still the team to beat?
Broncos Still Team to Beat
In what is typically normal of the fickle-minded media landscape, the Broncos have taken a backseat to the aforementioned teams because of their 39-33 loss to the Colts two weeks ago—after having been lauded as the best team in the NFL over the first several weeks of the season.
So are the Broncos still the team to beat?
In spite of their slip-up versus the Colts two weeks prior, and in spite of their slow start and turnover-prone victory over the Redskins last week, the Broncos are still the team to beat.
Yes, the offensive line showed weaknesses versus the Colts and Robert Mathis in allowing two sacks and a fumble to the Colts defensive end.
And it's true that the offense has been off to unimpressive starts for two consecutive weeks straight after a 6-0 start.
But in spite of that, the Broncos have still averaged 39 points per game over the past two weeks. Denver is still averaging 42.9 points per game despite its "unimpressive" last couple of games.
The team out of Mile High still has the top offense in the NFL. Hell, it has the top offense in NFL history through the first eight games of an NFL season.
The Broncos have the best quarterback in the league and the best receiving corps in the NFL—all with the added advantage of playing in an NFL landscape that has its rules bent in favor of offenses.
The defense showed its ability in the 45-21 victory over Washington by pressuring Redskins quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins relentlessly—the defense forced five turnovers, including three sacks.
No offense in the NFL comes close to replicating the ability of the Broncos. The Chiefs continue to rely heavily upon their defense as the offense averages just 24 points per game (13th in NFL). The Seahawks continue to win in the same fashion as Kansas City, as their offense has struggled at times throughout the season, scoring just 12 points versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 and just 14 points against the St. Louis Rams in Week 8.
The Saints are the only team of the "elite" that can potentially match the Broncos in terms of talent on the offensive end, but New Orleans is averaging just 28 points per game—15 points less than the Broncos.
Much has been made over the Broncos' last two outings—all negative observations. People have pointed out the offensive line's lack of consistency and the offense's declining play, while praising teams such as the Seahawks and Chiefs, in spite of their offensive woes.
The Chiefs have yet to lose a game this season. The Seahawks haven't lost since Week 5. The Broncos just so happened to suffer the most recent loss of these "elite" teams, falling to the Colts in Week 7.
That explains why people have been so hard on the Broncos and not the other elite teams, despite the weaknesses of each team—it's a "what have you done for me lately?" environment.
The negative reaction to Denver's recent play has been the definition of an overreaction.
The Broncos aren't invincible. The offense won't just steamroll through every opponent on every drive, and yes, Manning is human.
That doesn't mean the Broncos aren't still the team to beat.
With what might be the best offense in NFL history and a defense that continues to grow stronger with each passing week, there is little reason to believe otherwise.