Exploring Likelihood the Denver Broncos Go 16-0, Claim Perfect Season

DJ Siddiqi@@DJSiddiqiCorrespondent IIISeptember 30, 2013

Exploring Likelihood the Denver Broncos Go 16-0, Claim Perfect Season

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    The Denver Broncos currently stand at 4-0 through the first quarter of the NFL season.

    It isn't so much the fact that the Broncos stand at 4-0 that's impressive about the record. There are currently four other teams with an undefeated record.

    It's the way the 2013 Broncos have done it.

    To call it domination would be an understatement. The Broncos' average margin of victory in their four victories has been 22 points. Peyton Manning has thrown 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions for the best four-game start by any quarterback in NFL history.

    Following the Broncos' 37-21 victory over the Raiders in Week 3, coach John Fox had this to say about Manning, via Brandon Moree of DenverBroncos.com.

    "I think he has, again, started where he left off last year and improved on that," Fox said. "We added some weapons, I think personnel-wise our guys have brought in some guys that have helped us. And he’s an incredible player as far as the way he prepares and communicates things to his teammates."

    When you look across the board, there aren't many weaknesses you can pinpoint on this roster.

    The offense is by far the best in the league, averaging nearly 45 points per game behind Manning's unstoppable passing prowess. The defense is a unit full of playmakers despite two of their best players—Champ Bailey and Von Miller—having yet to play a single game in the 2013 season.

    The special teams unit is stacked, as return man Trindon Holliday already has two return touchdowns on the season.

    And so the inevitable question pops up more and more with each dominating Broncos win.

    "Can the Broncos go 16-0?"

    The question isn't "can they?" but "will they?"

    Note: This article has been modified from its original form to reflect the results of the Saints-Dolphins game on Monday night. 

Just How Dominant Have the Broncos Been?

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Let's put this into perspective—the 2013 Denver Broncos have defeated their opponents by an average margin of 22 points per game.

    The only team that is widely regarded as on the Broncos' level are the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. They have defeated all four of their opponents by an average margin of 15 points per game.

    Peyton Manning has yet to throw a single interception on his way to an NFL-record 16 touchdown passes through the first four games of the NFL season. The defense ranks No. 1 in the league in percentage of drives ending in a turnover. The team has now won a franchise-record 15 straight regular-season games.

    Outside of a major blip on their resume with the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January, the Broncos have been the best team in the NFL for a full year now.

    Since the NFL-AFL merger, Denver has scored the most points through the first four games of a season in league history, per Bill Barnwell of Grantland.

    Domination is not enough to describe the Broncos' play through the first quarter of the 2013 season.

Achieving Perfection

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    The most recent team to achieve perfection in the regular season—the 2007 New England Patriots—did so behind the best quarterback in the league at the time (Tom Brady), an offense full of talented skill players and a chock full of motivation.

    Brady won the NFL MVP award that season by throwing for 50 touchdown passes (an NFL record), while the Patriots offense broke the single-season mark for points scored by a team by posting 589 points on the season.

    Their motivation resulted from the aftermath of "Spygate," which resulted in Bill Belichick's decision to humiliate his opponents by running up the score.

    For comparison's sake, let's look at the numbers. The 2007 Patriots averaged 36.8 points per game. Their average margin of victory was by 19.7 points per game.

    The main receivers on that roster were Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Benjamin Watson.

    The 2013 Broncos are averaging 44.8 points per game, and their average margin of victory has been 22 points.

    The main receivers on the 2013 Broncos' squad are Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.

    Although there isn't a single individual threat on the Broncos' squad that matches the ability of Moss from that 2007 Patriots' squad, the Broncos' collection of talent on the receiving end surpasses that of the 2007 Patriots' squad.

    Demaryius, Decker and Welker are all coming off of 1,000-yard seasons. All three players are capable of being No. 1 receivers on any team in the NFL.

    Add in Julius Thomas, and there's a reason the Broncos offense has been unstoppable so far this year.

    The Denver offense is so stacked that weapons such as Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are being relegated to special teams duty because there are not enough passes to go around.

    That is the definition of being stacked.

    The 2007 Patriots had the most dominant offense in NFL history.

    The 2013 Broncos could lay claim to that by the end of the season.

Weeks 5 and 6

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

    Let's now take a look at the remainder of the Broncos' 2013 schedule and their odds in each game.

    In Weeks 5 and 6, the Broncos travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys (2-2) before coming back home to face the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4).

    Week 5 at Dallas: The Cowboys are coming off of a 30-21 loss at San Diego. The Dallas defense was victimized by a 401-yard, four-touchdown passing barrage by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

    The Cowboys are a well-balanced team—they rank 10th in offense and 11th in defense. Having said that, the big problem is their pass defense.

    They rank 27th in passing yards allowed and 30th in passing touchdowns allowed. Eli Manning victimized the Cowboys with 450 yards passing, Alex Smith didn't throw a single interception against them in Week 2 and Rivers completed 83.3 percent of his passes in Dallas' loss to San Diego in Week 4.

    How can you expect them to slow down Peyton Manning?

    Expect this game to go along the lines of what happened in Week 4 to Philadelphia. Dallas—like Philly—is not a bad team.

    However, being matched up with Denver will overwhelm the Cowboys by the time the second half rolls around.

    Expect a big Denver victory.

    Chances of Denver Winning: 90 Percent

    Week 6 vs. Jacksonville: The Jaguars are 0-4. They have scored a total of 31 points, averaging just 7.8 points per game.

    Need I say more?

    Chances of Winning: 99 Percent

Week 7 at Indianapolis

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    Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos travel to Indianapolis in Week 7 to take on the Colts on Sunday Night Football.

    What to Expect: The Colts (3-1) have had an impressive first quarter of the season, defeating the San Francisco 49ers 27-7 in San Francisco.

    The Colts are a well-balanced team as they rank ninth in offense and fourth in defense through four games of the NFL season.

    Indy quarterback Andrew Luck has made tremendous strides in his second season as his completion percentage has risen a full 10 points (64.1 percent) in comparison to his rookie season.

    There will be plenty of intrigue from this matchup because Peyton Manning is coming back to Indianapolis for the first time since signing with the Broncos in March 2012.

    The problem for the Colts—as is the case with the majority of teams—is that they lack the offensive firepower to match the Broncos.

    In a league that is dominated more than ever by the passing game, to keep up with the Broncos you have to at least have the firepower to match their offense.

    With all of that in mind, this still may be a tough game for the Broncos. It's in Indianapolis, Luck looks to be on his way to being the NFL's next great passer and the Colts have a stingy defense that has only allowed two passing touchdowns on the season, which is the best mark in the league.

    Expect this game to be closer than the one versus Philadelphia. The Colts will keep it close until the fourth quarter, where the Broncos will finally pull away.

    Chances of Winning: 70 Percent

Week 8 vs. Washington

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos travel back home to face the Washington Redskins (1-3) before entering the bye week.

    What to Expect:  It's head coach Mike Shanahan's return to Denver, as his Redskins look to keep pace in the NFC East by defeating the Broncos.

    A few weeks ago, I would have said this game was a toss-up—that was before I saw how dominating Denver's defense is against the read-option offense and how much of a step back this Redskins' offense has taken compared to 2012 with Robert Griffin III still recovering from his injury of a year ago.

    Griffin is a better passer than Vick, but at this point of his recovery, he isn't a better runner than Vick. The Eagles have a stacked offense full of playmakers such as DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. Jackson was held to just two receptions for 34 yards while McCoy had an uneventful 73 rushing yards on 16 carries in their loss to Denver.

    Expect the same thing to happen to Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon in Week 8.

    The only way Washington's chances increase is if Griffin and the read-option offense looks as it did in 2012. They have four weeks to make that happen.

    Chances of Winning: 80 Percent

Weeks 10 and 15 vs. San Diego

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    The Broncos travel to San Diego in Week 10 and face the Chargers in Mile High in Week 15.

    What to Expect: Analyzing divisional matchups are tough. It seems no matter how big the discrepancy of talent is between them, when two teams from the same division get together it tends to be a grind-it-out affair.

    The Chargers played the Broncos tough in 2012, losing both meetings. In the first meeting in Week 6, the Chargers led 24-0, before of course losing the game in historic fashion, 35-24, on Monday Night Football.

    However, San Diego is a much improved team from last season.

    The Chargers rank seventh in the NFL in offense, scoring 27.0 points per game. Quarterback Philip Rivers has been rejuvenated under the leadership of former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Rivers ranks second in the league in touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating—only behind Peyton Manning.

    Many people are picking Kansas City to be Denver's toughest matchup.

    That won't be the case.

    The Broncos' toughest competition within the division will be the Chargers. Unlike Kansas City, San Diego has an offense that can at least go toe-to-toe with the Broncos.

    The Chargers have two cracks at Denver. We'll see if they can get it done at least once.

    Week 10 Chances of Winning: 55 Percent

    Week 15 Chances of Winning: 65 Percent

Weeks 11 and 13 vs. Chiefs

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos play both games against their AFC West rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, in Weeks 11 and 13. The Broncos will face the Chiefs at home in Week 11, and travel to Kansas City in Week 13.

    What to Expect: The Chiefs have surprised everybody with their 4-0 start under new head coach Andy Reid. 

    Behind a talented roster featuring Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Dwayne Bowe, Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali, the Chiefs have allowed just 41 points, for a league-best average of 10.2 points per game.

    Kansas City—behind the excellent play of quarterback Alex Smith and a top-tier defense—ranks No. 1 in the league with a plus-nine turnover differential.

    The Chiefs have a lot going for them. They have talented playmakers on both sides of the ball. They have a head coach who knows how to win in the NFL. They have an offense that takes care of the ball, and a defense that forces turnovers. The defense wreaks havoc on quarterbacks, as they have amassed 18 sacks on the season, best in the NFL.

    But they lack one thing—an explosive offense.

    Everything has to happen in unison for the Chiefs. They have to take care of the football. They have to force turnovers. They have to play smart, disciplined football.

    They've been able to do that in their first four games versus the Jaguars, Eagles, Cowboys and Giants.

    All four of those teams have been inconsistent and sloppy when it pertains to taking care of the football so far in this young season.

    The Broncos are the exact opposite of that.

    With how the rules are bent in favor of the passing game, Peyton Manning will not be stopped in the regular season. Can he be slowed down? Sure. Will he be slowed down enough for Smith to lead the Chiefs to victory?

    Most likely, no.

    The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs are much like the 2010 Chiefs.

    The 2010 squad took care of the football (14 turnovers on the season, second-best in NFL history) and ran the ball efficiently (best in 2010) to overcompensate for a quarterback (Matt Cassel) who couldn't win games on his own.

    The 2013 squad is a more balanced unit, with better defense and quarterback play.

    Having said that, it's the same formula for victory—win by doing everything perfectly to overcompensate for the lack of an elite quarterback.

    The problem is, it will be hard to do that against the Broncos.

    Kansas City will play the Broncos tough, but they are going to need to do what they did in their first four games—take care of the football, forcing the opposing quarterback into mistakes, dominate time of possession—just to beat the Broncos.

    That is not easy to accomplish.

    Week 11 Chances of Winning: 65 percent

    Week 13 Chances of Winning: 55 Percent

Week 12 at New England

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos travel to New England to play the Patriots (4-0) in Week 12.

    What to Expect: The Patriots always give the Broncos trouble. In fact, Denver has lost its last three meetings with New England.

    It might be different this year.

    Tom Brady returns, but his receivers haven't.

    Gone are Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and Danny Woodhead. In are Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

    And Tom Brady is still making it work.

    In New England's Week 4 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Brady had his best game of the season. He threw for two touchdowns, completed 65 percent of his passes and accumulated a 119.8 quarterback rating.

    The Patriots became a more run-balanced team, as they ran the football 31 times in unison with Brady's 31 passing attempts.

    Expect more of the same as the season progresses, even with the returns of Rob Gronkowski and Amendola.

    Love him or hate him, coach Bill Belichick is a genius when it pertains to making adjustments. He did it in the victory over the Falcons, he's done it over the past 13 years in replacing dozens of star players while keeping New England as a contender, and he did it in 2008 when quarterback Matt Cassel took over for Brady and the Patriots proceeded to finish the season with a record of 11-5.

    Belichick kept Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan off of the field with an effective running game. He could do the same to Peyton Manning in Week 12 and has a quarterback (Brady) that is just as good as Manning.

    Combine the fact that this game is in New England, where weather conditions won't be favorable for a passing game, and you have the makings of a possible loss.

    This will be Denver's true test of the regular season.

    Chances of Winning: 50 Percent

Week 14 vs. Tennessee

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos will await the visiting Tennessee Titans (3-1) in a late-season matchup in December.

    What to Expect: The Titans have surprised teams on their way to a 3-1 start.

    It's really simple—this team relies on a great defense. The defense makes stops and creates turnovers, and the Titans offense takes advantage of those opportunities and converts them into points.

    The defense ranks eighth in the league in turnovers and third in the league in sacks.

    This is where this squad may pose problems for the Broncos. This defense does not rely on a single player—four players have multiple sacks on this squad—to sack the quarterback.

    The Titans have many weaknesses. Chris Johnson is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, as the Titans rank 25th in the league in yards per carry. Tennessee's quarterback play has been better, but it's still way behind Denver's. And who knows how healthy Jake Locker will be by Week 14?

    Tennessee will give Denver some fits, but it's hard to envision the Titans knocking off the Broncos in the thin air.

    Chances of Winning: 75 Percent

Week 16 at Houston

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos travel to Houston as this game will likely have seeding implications if the Broncos are to stumble along the way.

    What to Expect: The Texans (2-2) are a great team.

    They have a great running game with the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. They have receiving targets in Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. They have a defense that's led by the best defensive player today in J.J. Watt.

    So what's missing? Why all of the unrest in Houston? Why can't they get over the hump? Why are they just 2-2?

    Maybe what's missing is an elite quarterback capable of stepping up his play to win tough games against elite opponents.

    Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is solid. He's been the Texans' starting quarterback since 2008. He's led them to a couple of divisional playoff appearances.

    Yet, they can't seem to beat the elite teams. They can't seem to beat the caliber of team such as the Patriots or the Ravens in the playoffs in order to get over the hump.

    Case in point—Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime.

    The Texans led 20-3 at halftime. They shut down opposing quarterback Russell Wilson for the entire game. Yet, late in the fourth quarter with a little over two minutes remaining with the Seahawks down 20-13, the inevitable happens—Schaub, with pressure in his face, throws a forced pass into tight coverage that results in an interception returned for a touchdown.

    The eventual result? A loss.

    Despite shaky quarterback play in big games from Schaub, this is still one of Denver's toughest tests of the season—the Texans defeated the Broncos in 2012 at Mile High.

    However, while J.J. Watt continues to rack up the sacks—3.5 in four games—the cracks may be starting to show in Houston.

    They rank 23rd in points allowed. They've given up 23-plus points in each of their four games: 28 points allowed to the Chargers, 24 allowed to the Titans, 30 allowed to the Ravens and 23 allowed to the Seahawks.

    Yes, some of those touchdowns were as result of offense or special teams, but the point still stands.

    Houston is a shaky team as Week 4 comes to a close. Let's see how it looks entering Week 16.

    Chances of Winning: 60 Percent

Week 17 at Oakland

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    The Broncos travel to Oakland for both teams' final matchup of the regular season.

    What to Expect: The Raiders have improved with Terrelle Pryor. But they're still the Raiders.

    The Broncos dominated Oakland 37-21 in Week 3. They shut down the read-option offense. They held Darren McFadden to just nine yards on 12 carries.

    So what is there to say when you already know what to expect?

    It's Week 17. Not to sound cocky, but most expect the Broncos to have the No. 1 seed wrapped up by this time.

    The Broncos may rest their starters in Houston if they have the No. 1 seed locked up. They wouldn't want to reveal their offensive and defensive game plans versus a possible playoff opponent. But we don't know for sure if that will happen.

    But versus the Raiders? Week 17 in Oakland against a divisional team with nothing to gain or lose? The Broncos will likely rest Peyton Manning. They'll play most of their starters for maybe a drive or two.

    The question then becomes, "Are Denver's backups better than the Raiders' starters?"

    Can Brock Osweiler lead the Broncos to victory?

    This is a question that is difficult to answer. Which is the reason why I'm giving Oakland a chance.

    Remember the 2009 Indianapolis Colts? They went 14-0 and then they played quarterback Curtis Painter for the remaining two games?

    Expect the same fate for the 2013 Broncos.

    Whether the Broncos start resting their starters in Week 16 at Houston or Week 17 at Oakland, it's bound to happen if the Broncos reach this stage of the season with an undefeated record.

    The Manning-led Broncos can go undefeated—but the problem is, like the '09 Colts, they won't care about going undefeated in the regular season.

    It is, and always has been, about winning the Super Bowl for this team.

    Chances of Winning: 50 Percent