The Denver Broncos pick up a road win in Week 13 and place themselves squarely atop the AFC.
Look, everyone remembers their performance last week against the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Quarterback Peyton Manning didn't look like himself and the defense came up short against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
We even remember Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts. Manning looked harassed and vulnerable. It's especially troubling how amazing quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis offense looked since they've been so atrocious in recent weeks.
All of that is completely irrelevant after the now 10-2 Broncos' win at Arrowhead.
No, beating the now 9-3 Kansas City Chiefs doesn't erase the two losses somehow, but it accomplishes something that so few teams have been able to do this season—get a big win on the road against quality competition.
More importantly, the Broncos did it under less-than-ideal conditions. Without tight end Julius Thomas, players like running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker put on dominant performances against a good Chiefs defense.
Look around the NFL's best and one will find teams with great home-field advantage.
The New Orleans Saints are dominant inside the Superdome. The New England Patriots are great at Gillette Stadium (as the Broncos know). Both the Seattle Seahawks and Chiefs have laid claim to the loudest stadium in the world at different points this season. The Cincinnati Bengals are unbeaten at home this year. Heck, even playoff hopefuls like the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are tough outs at home.
When you take the NFL's best against one another, it's almost impossible to pick against the home team.
"Manning can't win the big game!"
That's the narrative that we were sold after the Broncos' loss to the Patriots. It's tripe that gets repeated over and over again when it's convenient—ignoring all the big games he's won in his life and the countless teams he has put away long before the game could ever even be categorized as "big."
This was a huge game for Manning against a Chiefs team that was undefeated before the Broncos knocked them off their pedestal a few weeks ago. That game featured an injured Manning, but a home-field advantage as well. Manning was quick, accurate and single-handedly negated the Chiefs' vaunted pass rush.
This week was a different animal entirely. At Arrowhead, Denver had some issues with the noise and was forced to huddle more than it may have wanted to. It had miscommunications and numerous instances where pre-snap calls took longer than Manning is used to, as players struggled to hear many of his trademark calls.
Yet the offense was still effective. Aided, yes, by the absence of Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, but also by a yeoman's performance by a number of offensive linemen who were forced to hold protection a little longer than their last matchup.
The story, though, is the increasing effectiveness of the Broncos running backs.
I'm not even saying that Klis was incorrect; just that Moreno's 2013 has definitely taken a different turn after this week's performance. He only collected 18 yards on the ground, but 72 (and a touchdown) through the air.
Ball paced the rushing attack with 117 on the ground.
The Broncos finish the season with four winnable games against the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers at home and then on the road against the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders. A record of 14-2 looks almost like a given barring significant injury (been there) or a trap game while resting Manning and some other starters.
Denver has home-field advantage in the playoffs right now, and winning out would keep it on that track. That advantage means the world to every other top team in the NFL this season, as Mile High holds its own perils for visiting teams.
A loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead would've put the Broncos head-to-head with the Patriots, who would hold the tiebreaker. It would make it much more likely that Manning would have to go back to New England in the postseason, where Brady is that much more unbeatable. This win makes that outcome less daunting and keeps the Broncos' destiny in their own hands.
There's no giant pendulum of control that has shifted in Denver's favor—that's the narrative that many will try to sell in the coming weeks. No, the Broncos have simply been the AFC's best all along and lost a couple of close games against good teams on the road. In an NFL governed by parity, that's still a pretty fantastic feat.
With the win at Arrowhead and going 2-0 against a Chiefs team headed for the postseason, the Broncos have set themselves atop the AFC's mountain and will be daring the field to knock them off come playoff time.
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