Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 17

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 17
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The Denver Broncos are back on the winning track after defeating the Houston Texans 37-13 in Week 16.

The high-powered passing attack was able to break the Texans’ spirit with a 21-point fourth quarter. The offense was constantly going after the Texans through the air even though the ground game was gashing the defense.

Peyton Manning was 32-of-51 for 400 yards and four touchdowns. His performance set a new NFL record for the most touchdown passes in a single season. Manning now has 51 passing touchdowns this year, breaking the old record (50) that Tom Brady set in 2007.

After the game Manning commented on whether or not he believed he could break that record after four neck procedures that cost him the 2011 season:

"No, probably not. Like I said, I had no real expectations because I couldn’t really get any doctor or anyone to give me some sort of gauge or timetable for strength recovery. You can believe I asked every question I possibly could and with the injury I was dealing with, there was major unpredictability, so a lot of them said ‘maybe you’ll come back to this level and maybe not,’ so there was definitely some wait and see and like I said, I’m grateful for people that helped me along the way and I’ve certainly put some time and work in to it, but no, it would be hard to say you could have imagined this at that point, so we’re excited about the win and hopefully we can keep it going next week."

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Knowshon Moreno finished the game against the Texans with 76 yards rushing on 11 carries. This total put him over 1,000 rushing yards on the year. This is the first time in his career that he’s surpassed that mark. Moreno also became the first Broncos running back to have over 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.

Eric Decker was the leading target against the Texans. He was targeted 17 times by Manning, and he hauled in 10 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Demaryius Thomas was also a key reason why the Broncos won. Thomas finished the game with eight catches for 123 yards and one touchdown against the Texans.

Tight end Julius Thomas was the one who caught the record-breaking touchdown pass from Manning. He had six catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.

After the game, Thomas talked about Manning’s historic season. “I’ve said it all year, in this room we’re not surprised at what Peyton does. The work he puts in every day, you see how he demands the best from himself. Fortunate for us, we’re the beneficiaries of that. A guy slinging the ball around at a very high level and we’re extremely happy for him, and it’s a great accomplishment.”

The defense was able to play strong against a weakened Texans team, but they suffered an injury that will impact their postseason run.

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Von Miller was lost early in the game against the Texans to a knee injury. They have now put him on season-ending injured reserve, activating linebacker Brandon Marshall off their practice squad to take his place.

This injury is not as devastating as some people think. The Broncos went 6-0 to begin the season without Miller as he served his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Champ Bailey returned to the field against the Texans. He’s missed most of this season due to a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

After the game, Bailey felt good. “I feel good. I like the role I was playing. I didn’t play every snap, which is probably smart at this point. I feel good and I was just trying to do a little more each week.”

With the victory over the Texans, the Broncos secured the AFC West title. This is their third division title in a row, and it gives them more division titles (13) than any other team in NFL history.

They have secured a first-round bye, but they have not yet secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Broncos need a win against the Raiders in Week 17 in order to pave the road to the Super Bowl through the Mile High City.

This looks like another easy win for the Broncos. They still have something to play for, and the Broncos are unlikely to overlook the Raiders this week.

 

Division Standings

 

Team

Wins

Losses

Denver Broncos

12

3

Kansas City Chiefs

11

4

San Diego Chargers

8

7

Oakland Raiders

4

11

The Broncos now sit atop the AFC West as the division champ. The Chiefs were tied with them last week, but their loss to the Colts makes them a wild-card team at best.

The Colts may face the Chiefs in the playoffs, but they were able to travel to Arrowhead Stadium and handle the Chiefs with ease in Week 16. The Chiefs' 23-7 loss knocked out any hope they had of winning the division and getting a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Jamaal Charles once again showed why he is one of the best running backs in the game today. On only 13 carries, he was able to rush for 106 yards against the Colts. He also chipped in with five catches for 38 yards.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It was the rest of the offense that let the team down. The wide receivers failed to make much of an impact as they struggled to get open all day. Thus, Alex Smith struggled to produce as a passer. He’s usually careful with the football, but against the Colts he threw an interception and lost two fumbles.

The Chiefs were the final unbeaten team this season, but they’ve struggled over the last month of the year. The last three times the Chiefs were the final unbeaten team in the NFL, they failed to win a playoff game.

Only time will tell if they reverse that trend this year. They have a chance to end the season on a winning note as they take on the Chargers in Week 17.

San Diego beat up on the Raiders at home in Week 16. They won 26-13 in large part to their ground game.

The Chargers began the season as a pass-happy team with Philip Rivers putting up incredible numbers. Over the last month of the season, they’ve morphed into a more balanced offense.

Ryan Mathews has rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second time in his career. His 1,111 rushing yards are the highest total of his career. Mathews has stayed mostly healthy this season, and he’s finally playing up to the potential he showed as a first-round pick coming out of Fresno State.

Their playoff hopes are still alive. The Chargers need to win in Week 17 against the Chiefs, coupled with both a Ravens loss and a Dolphins loss.

The Raiders’ season is essentially over, and they’re already focused on next year.

Head coach Dennis Allen is likely on the hot seat, and the team may choose to go in a different direction for 2014.

In addition to a new head coach, the Raiders may be looking for a new quarterback as well. Matt McGloin has been benched this week. We’ll see Terrelle Pryor get the start against the Broncos.

The Raiders won’t just lay down for the Broncos. They’ll put up a fight at home, as they would love nothing more than to play spoiler against the conference’s best.

 

Injury Report

The Broncos have several key players who are down due to injury.

Wes Welker will miss another week with a concussion. The team has designs on making a Super Bowl run, and they don’t want to rush Welker back too soon. There’s no need to risk further injury against a team they should be able to easily beat.

We should see more from the likes of Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. Playing without Welker will also increase the number of snaps for guys like Andre Caldwell and Jacob Tamme.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Derek Wolfe is still missing time due to the mysterious illness he came down with about a month ago. The team has given few updates on Wolfe, and we in the media have yet to see him in the locker room. Wolfe has been at the facility as he continues to get treatment for whatever is ailing him.

On Monday, Fox gave us an update on Wolfe’s status:

"I’m expecting we’ll know more [soon]. Whether he will be out there in a bigger capacity, I can’t predict like some of the people in this business that predict. But Wes Welker has also not been cleared at this point. That is today, Monday. We form back up on Wednesday and so a lot of those things can change. But right now, I’ve got no new updates for you on either one of those two young men."

As mentioned earlier, the Broncos are going to be without Miller again. We’ll see Nate Irving plugged into the starting lineup as the strong-side linebacker.

Kayvon Webster may miss a second game due to thumb surgery. He’s feeling better, but there’s no clarity on his playing status right now.

Fox talked about Webster’s outlook. “Again, it’s kind of in the talk. But they’ve got tomorrow off. The guys came in today, lifted and watched tape. Tomorrow is their day off and then, when we form back up on Wednesday, Steve Antonopulos, our trainer, will give me a list. There is a possibility. I’m just currently predicting right now. So like I said, I can give you a realistic update on Wednesday.”

 

What Must Improve

The Broncos still have plenty to work on with only one game left in the regular season. They have made some improvements on both sides of the ball, but the Broncos have to continue fixing their problems.

They’ve allowed only one 100-yard rusher this season when Ryan Mathews eclipsed that mark in Week 15. The Broncos’ rush defense only allowed 87 yards rushing to the entire Texans squad. The leading rusher was backup running back Deji Karim. He only posted 30 yards rushing (on eight carries) against the Broncos.

 

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The improved run defense starts with players like Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams. Knighton is a behemoth in the middle who can take up two blockers regularly. Williams was the team’s first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He’s been getting increased opportunities since Kevin Vickerson was lost for the year to a hip injury.

The Broncos’ linebackers played better in coverage against the Texans. Danny Trevathan was the team’s leading tackler in Week 16, racking up nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, one pass defended and one quarterback hit.

The Texans were playing without both Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham at the tight end position. Third-string tight end Ryan Griffin had five catches for 66 yards against the Broncos. Most of that came on a 40-yard play. Going into the playoffs, the Broncos need to continue to limit what opponents can do on underneath routes.

A problem that continues on both sides of the ball is excessive penalties. The Broncos were penalized eight times for 67 yards in Week 16.

Defensively they need to maintain discipline on passing downs. The Broncos need to shorten drives of their opponents. Stupid penalties can extend drives, which only keeps the ball away from Manning and the offense.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos need to do their best to keep from jumping offside. They’ll face plenty of passing downs as opponents try to keep up with the Broncos offense. Denver’s defense can go after the quarterback with somewhat reckless abandon, but they need to be mindful of hard counts on key downs.

Offensively the team needs to cut down on the false-start penalties. Opposing pass-rushers are going to attack the edge in order to get after Manning. Both Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin have to be prepared to face plenty of edge pressure in the playoffs.

In addition to false-start penalties, the team also has to cut down on any holding penalties. They’ve been doing a good job of protecting Manning since the start of the season. Sacks are down since the team’s bye in Week 8. The offensive line needs to keep the holding penalties down as much as possible.

 

Summary

The Broncos have one more game to play on the road. If they win against the Raiders, then all playoff games they’re in will take place in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Having home-field advantage is huge for this squad. Having a friendly crowd will help both the offense and defense perform better.

Manning loves to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Having a quiet home audience will help the offense play with more precision.

This game against the Raiders is not going to be an afterthought. There’s too much at stake for the Broncos to let an inferior team like Oakland hang around. The Raiders lack the weapons on defense to slow down the Broncos offense. There’s also too many question marks on offense for the Raiders to put up much of a fight.

The Broncos should be able to secure a victory against the Raiders in Week 17.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.

 

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