The Denver Broncos are 10-2 with complete control over the No. 1 seed for the AFC Playoffs.
Since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver, the Broncos have been an unstoppable machine in the regular season—the Broncos are 23-5 in the regular season under Manning, with two of those losses coming against one team (New England Patriots).
That is the best regular season record of any team over the past two seasons.
Manning is having one of the best seasons in NFL history, as he is the favorite to win his fifth MVP award—through 12 games, Peyton has 41 touchdown passes, 4,125 yards passing and a 115.3 quarterback rating. He is on pace to shatter the NFL single-season passing records for touchdowns and yards passing.
During the Manning era, the Broncos have become a modern-day version of 'America's team'—this season the Broncos have already played in five nationally televised games. With the exception of their Week 6 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Broncos have either been part of a nationally televised broadcast, or been the feature game of the week for CBS or FOX.
That means the Broncos have been prominently featured across the country 11 out of a possible 12 games.
The Broncos are arguably the best team in the AFC, they have the favorite to win the MVP award, and even if you live in a region nowhere near the Rocky Mountains, you have probably witnessed the majority of the Broncos' 10-2 season so far.
So how is this team "flying under the radar"?
Real simple—the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks are 11-1. They have demonstrated that they are the NFL's best team at the moment. Their resume is hard to argue against.
In victories over the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints—teams with a combined 26-10 record, and all three of which would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today—the 'Hawks defeated their opponents by a combined score of 75-17.
Putting that into perspective—the Niners are 8-4, the Panthers are 9-3 and the Saints are 9-3. New Orleans and Carolina are considered to be the top two teams in the NFC after Seattle. The Niners and Detroit Lions are right behind those teams in the pecking order.
The Seahawks are the team to beat right now.
ESPN ranked the Seahawks as the NFL's No. 1 team. After Seattle demolished New Orleans in a matchup of the NFC's two best teams, the Broncos took an immediate step back in the media's eyes—and that's not a bad thing.
That's a good thing.
The Broncos are a game back of the Seahawks in the standings. Although the Broncos have pulled off convincing victories over their AFC West rivals—and the previously undefeated—Kansas City Chiefs, the only thing that people seem to remember is the Broncos' 34-31 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 12.
When you factor in the Broncos losing a 24-0 lead, plus questions over Manning's ability to play in the cold weather, you have a team that isn't considered as invincible as it was earlier in the season when it started 6-0 and was breaking offensive records on a weekly basis.
Weaknesses displayed during the 39-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7, combined with the collapse versus the Patriots in Week 12 have made the Broncos take a backseat to their NFC counterparts, the Seahawks.
Why is this a good thing? Why does it even matter?
Some of you may recall the Broncos were the NFL's 'hot' team in 2012. Denver started out the season 2-3, before winning 11 straight regular season games to enter the postseason as the AFC's No. 1 seed, not to mention the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Let's assume the Seahawks remain the NFL's 'hot' team for the remainder of the regular season.
This would mean the Seahawks would enter the postseason with the NFL's best record and as the team to beat in the postseason—a la the 2012 Broncos.
As if this needed said—the #Seahawks are the best team in football. And it’s not even close.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 3, 2013
And it won't mean squat.
You have to go all of the way back to the 2003 season in which the team with the NFL's best regular season record actually won the Super Bowl.
In a league filled with parity, the NFL's best team in the regular season doesn't automatically achieve postseason success.
Manning has been a part of eight one-and-done postseason teams—eight—the most by any quarterback in NFL history. Four of those teams had first round byes with a 13-3 record or better.
When Manning won his Super Bowl in Indianapolis in 2006, the Colts were 'under the radar.'
They had another solid 12-4 season, but entered as an afterthought No. 3 seed. The No. 1 seeded 14-2 San Diego Chargers were seen as the favorites out of the AFC.
Not only was Manning able to finally win a Super Bowl and get 'the monkey off his back,' but he was able to do so while getting another monkey off of his back—the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady-led Patriots. In the AFC Championship Game, Manning was able to lead the Colts out of a 21-3 deficit to a 38-34 victory over New England.
The point is this—although the Broncos are still widely considered to be the AFC's team to beat, they're clearly not the center of attention of the NFL universe—that honor belongs to the Seahawks after their dismantling of the second-best team in the NFC.
For Manning and the Broncos, it's a blessing in disguise for them to be 'under the radar.'