The Denver Broncos lost control over their playoff destiny when they lost to the San Diego Chargers in Week 15, 27-20. In order to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs the Broncos will need to win out and hope the New England Patriots lose one of their final three games.
They could still get a first-round bye if they win on the road against the Texans and on the road against the Raiders over the next two weeks. A first-round bye will help them get rest, get healthy and better prepare for what they hope is a Super Bowl run.
The Broncos failed to score 25 points for the first time in 19 games. They played only 53 offensive snaps against the Chargers, compared to the 91 offensive snaps they played against the Titans the previous week.
The Chargers played “keep away” from Manning, and it worked. More teams may try this strategy going forward.
Manning talked after the game about dealing with this type of defensive strategy.
I’ve dealt with it before. Teams have tried a similar game plan before where they are snapping the ball with two seconds, one second (left on the clock). [San Diego Chargers QB] Philip [Rivers] looks like he calls a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage and he’s trying to get them into a good play. When they’re doing that they are taking a lot of time off the clock. But hey, it’s our job to score points when we have the ball, no matter if we have it for 40 minutes or 20 minutes. We had it for 20 tonight; we didn’t do a good enough job on offense and that’s something that we have to correct.
So when looking ahead to the playoffs what are the best and worst case scenario for the Broncos? Let’s take a look to see who the Broncos may run into during the tournament that is the NFL playoffs.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos beat up on the Ravens in Week 1 this year. Many felt it was a “revenge” game for the Broncos after the Ravens knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
The way to truly get revenge is to beat Baltimore in the playoffs this year.
The last time they played, Peyton Manning had seven touchdown passes, and the Broncos offense was unstoppable. Playing the Ravens again wouldn’t mean a repeat performance, but it might come close.
Manning would feel comfortable picking on the Ravens defense with his array of weapons. He would also likely get more help from the ground game.
Knowshon Moreno was held to 19 yards rushing in Week 15 against the Chargers as the offensive line couldn’t get much push up front. The Broncos would have an easier time creasing the Ravens on the ground, and that balance would greatly aid what the offense does.
The Ravens would try to counteract the Broncos with running back Ray Rice. He’s not quite the same player he used to be, and the Ravens would be forced to abandon the ground game if they fell behind early.
This would put the pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco. He had an amazing run in the postseason last year, but things haven’t been as smooth this season.
Flacco will continue to benefit from the return of tight end Dennis Pitta. This would open up things underneath, where opponents can attack the Broncos linebackers in coverage.
Downfield targets like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones could also stretch the field vertically. The secondary is going to be a big problem area for the Broncos if they don’t clean things up quickly over the next few weeks.
It would be good for the Broncos to build momentum with a playoff win over last year’s Super Bowl champion.
It’s difficult to beat a team three times in the same season. The Broncos were able to handle the Chiefs twice earlier this season, but facing them in the playoffs might not go as well.
The Broncos showed a few flaws against the Chargers on Thursday night. The Chiefs may try to construct a similar game plan if they get to play Denver again.
Controlling the time of possession is the name of the game, and the Chiefs are built to lean on the ground game. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the game today, and he could hurt the Broncos defense the way Ryan Mathews did in Week 15. The Chiefs could also use more “beef” with their ground game and use Knile Davis more as a complementary back.
The passing game led by Alex Smith needs some help. The Chiefs wide receivers were getting open when they played the Broncos, but they were dropping too many passes that Smith put on the mark.
With better concentration from guys like Donnie Avery, Dwayne Bowe and Junior Hemingway, the Chiefs are likely to put up a better fight.
The Broncos would have a better path through the playoffs if they played the Bengals at home. They’re simply not built to stop the Broncos, largely due to devastating injuries on defense.
Losing the likes of Geno Atkins and Leon Hall for the season has crippled the Bengals defense. Peyton Manning would have plenty of time to throw, and he would make the secondary pay.
If the Bengals were to fall behind, the pressure would fall on Andy Dalton. He’s a streaky quarterback who can get hot or cold at any time. However, Dalton’s arm continues to present problems for him as a pro. Dalton doesn’t have the strength to zip in tight passes or throw downfield with great accuracy.
In obvious passing situations, the Broncos would be able to pressure Dalton while also bracket covering superstar wide receiver A.J. Green. Behind Green, the Bengals don’t have many options to help keep a defense honest.
Rookie running back Gio Bernard is a weapon the team could use as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. If the Broncos commit two defenders to shutting down Green, then the most dangerous player becomes Bernard.
Frankly, the Bengals don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Broncos offense. Denver would have an easier time with the Bengals than they would with other teams in the AFC.
This comes down to Andrew Luck. The game would be in Denver, so Peyton Manning wouldn’t have to deal with the emotion of playing in front of his old home crowd.
With Luck under center the Colts are never out of it. He can lead them back no matter what the deficit. The Broncos could build a lead against the Colts, but that may not hold up late.
Luck would be without Reggie Wayne this time around, but new targets like Da’Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill have given the Colts passing game some extra punch.
Offensively, the Colts can keep up or comeback against the Broncos. Defensively, the team could wreak havoc on the Broncos offensive line.
In the first game against the Colts, pass-rusher Robert Mathis was nearly unstoppable. Left tackle Chris Clark struggled to stop Mathis, and Manning was under duress most of the game.
Rattling Manning is a key to victory, and one the Colts would use early and often.
The Chargers may have done the Broncos a favor by beating them in Week 15. Peyton Manning lost to an AFC West opponent for the first time with the Broncos. This may have been the gut punch the team needed to get focused before the postseason.
If the Chargers somehow made their way back to the Mile High City, emotions would run high. San Diego would continue their ball-control offense with the idea that the best defense against Manning is a strong (and sustained) offense.
The Broncos would be more than ready for this contest. Defensively, they would likely have made adjustments to stop the run. They would also look to play with greater discipline so stupid penalties don’t keep drives alive for the Chargers.
If the Broncos can stuff Ryan Mathews they can get their offense back on the field. This will help the team create a rhythm offensively.
The Broncos would benefit from playing the Chargers again in the postseason. An emotional victory over a division foe would serve them well as their quest for a championship continues.
The Broncos lost control of their own destiny for the playoffs. If the New England Patriots win their final three regular-season games they will get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This means the AFC Championship Game could be played in Foxborough. That’s bad news for the Broncos.
The Patriots have a great home crowd who can get loud and rowdy. This would complicate what Peyton Manning wants to do when changing the play at the line of scrimmage.
Tom Brady is now going to be playing without superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. This is going to hurt what they can do through the air; however, they still have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos.
Without Gronkowski, we should see more from guys like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen. The Broncos linebackers would struggle covering each one of these players, and that’s a win for the Patriots offense.
If the Patriots wanted to grind things out they have three backs on the roster capable of doing just that. Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden all have the size to wear down an opponent. The Patriots could lean on all three to punish a Broncos defense that would mostly be focused on slowing down Brady and the passing game.
If this game was played in Denver then I feel the Broncos should win. If this game is played in New England then it will be even tougher for them to get the victory and advance to the Super Bowl.