The Denver Broncos are pretty damn bad-ass.
Their 27-17 win Sunday night over Kansas City wasn’t a cakewalk, but it proved a point conclusively: the only way you beat the Broncos this year is if they beat themselves. When they’re sticking to the plan, it’s all over.
Let’s start with Peyton Manning so we can get to less-obvious storylines: his second act in Denver has officially bypassed amazing and gone to what-the-f???? territory.
If this were baseball, we’d be whispering about PEDs – how can a quarterback still be playing at such a high level with so many miles in the tank?
And by high level, we mean:
- He’s leading the NFL in yards per attempt, attempts, yards, touchdowns, first downs.
- In the same number of attempts as Drew Brees, he has 8 more TDs, 30 more first downs, two fewer picks, taken nine less sacks.
- His numbers for 2013 based off the 10-game pace: 5,715 yards, 54 touchdowns, 9 interceptions.
- In two years with the Broncos he’s now 22-4 in the regular season; in the 26 games before he arrived they were 10-16.
On a night where he had a bum ankle, Manning had another near perfect game against a defense that had been playing near-perfect football.
Get that MVP speech shined up again, Peyton. It's yours.
But the Broncos are no one man show, as they proved Sunday night in a win that was surgical.
Demarius Thomas is quietly having a first-team All-Pro season. There are a lot of great receivers in the league and on this team, but Thomas is special. He’s on pace for 96 catches, 1,462 yards, 14 touchdowns, comparable to any other top wideout. But Thomas is more efficient (only two INTs and two drops on balls thrown his way), and less hyped.
Manning has never had a defensive teammate better than Von Miller. Pro Football Focus had Miller as their second-rated defensive player last year, and he’s put in four dominant efforts in his four games since returning from suspension. In fact, Miller has been so good that he’s amassed more positive grades in four games from PFF than all the rest of the league’s OLBs have managed in 10. He might only have two sacks and 11 tackles, but his impact is enormous.
The Broncos even have depth at the head coaching position. If you’re going to lose your head coach, having Peyton Manning running the show helps. So does having a defensive coordinator that went 73-63 as a head coach in the NFL from 2003-2011. Del Rio is too good to be an assistant, yet when he took the job in Denver it was to help coach a team with Tim Tebow as its quarterback. Months later, they had Peyton Manning -- a fair sight better than anyone Del Rio had during his successful run in Jacksonville. What a luxury for the Broncos to have Del Rio, who certainly should have his pick of high-profile head coaching jobs next year.
The defense is figuring it out. The last three weeks, the Broncos have allowed 7, 6 and 10 points in the first half – numbers that are going to hold up for a win 99.5 percent of the time when Manning is in there. They haven’t allowed 300 yards passing since the Tony Romo game in Week 5, and their Passer Rating Differential of 35.1 is pretty epic – imagine what it would be if they kept their foot on the gas all game long and had Miller in there full-time.
The tailbacks are averagetastic, and that’s OK. There’s some poetry in the Broncos’ tailback numbers. Between them, Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have 1,004 yards rushing in 10 games – oh, for a four-yard loss to please the mathemetician’s eye! They’re not great, averaging 3.89 yards a crack with five fumbles, but it’s the numbers that matter – the Broncos are 10th in rushing attempts, and on a team like this it’s only the threat of the run that really matters.
If they win the next two, it’ll take multiple miracles to keep them from the Super Bowl this time. If the Broncos need to figure out where they stand, the next two weeks will provide all the answers: at New England, at Kansas City. Win both, and they have to be considered as lead-pipe a cinch to go to the Super Bowl as any team since the 2007 Patriots. Lose one, or both, and they have a month to figure it out against Tennessee, San Diego, Houston and Oakland.