By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Rumor Monger (@captaincomey)
The Denver Broncos were exposed for what they are Sunday night in Indianapolis: a great offense with a terrible defense, and a team with minimal shot to win the Super Bowl unless they fix the losing half of that equation.
Scoring 28.1 points a game is a number we associate with winning Super Bowls … unless it’s what you’re allowing on offense, as Denver is through seven games.
That defense is the biggest reason we picked an outright upset by the Colts over the 7-point favorite Broncos with our Real and Spectacular Pick at CHFF Insider. Sooner or later a balanced team was going to beat Denver.
The worst Super Bowl defense ever came from the 2011 Giants, who gave up 25.0 PPG before switching on a dime in the postseason. But generally, Super Bowl winners are comfortably in the top 15 in scoring defense, usually the top 10, more likely the top five.
Don’t forget, this is a Denver team that allowed 38 points in the playoffs a year ago, undermining all of that consistent offense. To win the Super Bowl, they’ll have to win three against (approximately, for argument’s sake) Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Can they do it with a defense that’s this poor? Considering Peyton Manning’s mostly mediocre postseasons, doubt it.
The problems on D started in the playoffs last year and have been in evidence every week this year. Despite playing the softest early schedule in the game, the Broncos had the following defensive ranks on our CHFF boards and other regular stats through six weeks:
The scary part for Denver is that Sunday night, in allowing 39 points and losing the game, turned in probably their BEST defensive performance of the year. Against a good opponent, on the road, they held the Colts to 334 yards and 4.7 yards a play – usually, that means a pretty easy win.
But the Broncos were sloppy all over the place, and instead of flirting with defeat like they did vs. Jacksonville and Dallas, they tasted it. Indianapolis played with the poise you’d expect from the veteran Broncos, while Denver was whistled for 103 yards in penalties, mostly on offense and special teams, and looked like the underdog instead of the kings of the hill.
Speaking of king of the hill, who exactly is it in the AFC?
You could certainly go with the Chiefs at 7-0, but they haven’t played a good team yet, and their margin of error is awfully thin despite this lofty record. Their schedule is soft enough for them to gain a first-round bye but how’d that work out in 1995, 1997 and 2003? (Answer: one and done at Arrowhead).
Indianapolis can stake a claim with wins over Seattle, Denver and San Francisco, but they have two bad losses and might have lost Reggie Wayne for the season to go with a sketchy cast of characters on defense. New England is 5-2, but they don’t scare anyone. Cincinnati: ditto. The rest of the field: nope.
When it’s all said and done, Denver has the best chance if only because their defense got better and better last year. They just kept improving, right until their meltdown at home vs. the Ravens. With Von Miller back, they have the greatest upside of any AFC team.
But upside is just talk until it happens. And coach John Fox is treading into Marty Schottenheimer territory -- it's all well and good to win games, but eventually you need to win a Super Bowl.
Fox, who is a defensive guy, needss to make it happen sometime between now and January if they want to avoid another “Star Wars” season for Peyton Manning.
May the force be with him.