By this point in time the Broncos are at 9-3 and in a three way tie for the second seed in the AFC with the Patriots and the Ravens. The Broncos have played the Patriots, having lost to them in Week 5, which dropped Denver's record to 2-3. Ironically, that was Denver's last loss before engaging in a seven-game winning streak that the Broncos will look to increase to eight games on Thursday night at Oakland. The Broncos will travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens in Week 15.
The Texans are the best team in the AFC, having lost just one game – a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Texans stand at 11-1 entering Week 14. The Patriots are arguably the second-best team in the AFC at the moment, having won six straight games since a one-point loss in Seattle in Week 6. Of New England's three losses, they've been by a total of just four points. Two of those losses came by a single point each.
The Ravens have slipped up a bit since losing Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb to injuries. In Baltimore's first game since learning of Lewis' injury, the Ravens lost in humiliating fashion to the Houston Texans. Baltimore lost their third game of the season this past weekend when they lost to the Charlie Batch-led Steelers.
The Broncos are the hottest team in the league. No team has a longer winning streak than the Broncos. Denver ranks third in the league in points per game and 10th in the league in scoring defense. Peyton Manning may be on the verge of his fifth MVP award and Von Miller is in contention for Defensive Player of the Year in just his second year in the league. Von has 14 sacks, leads the league in tackles for loss and returned an interception for a touchdown this past Sunday vs. the Buccaneers.
Who is Denver's worst enemy entering the playoffs?
The answer is simple – themselves.
There is no reason why the Broncos shouldn't reach the Super Bowl this season. Denver is a more well-rounded team than both the Ravens and the Patriots at this point of the season. New England's defense ranks 15th in the league while the Ravens struggle on the road on offense. Entering the game vs. Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco had completed 66.5 percent of his passes at home with 1612 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 108.3 quarterback rating. On the road? Flacco completed just 55.3 percent of his passes, for 1238 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions for a 70.2 QB rating.
That simply will not cut it in the playoffs, especially if the Broncos are able to wrangle the No. 2 seed away from Baltimore by defeating them in Week 15. Flacco has historically been a "hot-and-cold" quarterback. He could look amazing one week and look dreadfully bad the next week. These statistics that demonstrate Flacco's penchant for playing well at home, while playing terrible on the road does not help matters to disprove that opinion.
As good as Tom Brady and the Patriots offense are, their defense has been their downfall. Their defense was the second-worst in the NFL last year and this year, they're not as bad, but they're not good either. What does help the team is that they rank near the top of the league in turnovers forced. Having said that, the Patriots are no longer the invincible force that ruled the league from 2001-2004, when they won three Super Bowls. Since losing in the Divisional Round during the 2005 season to the Broncos, Brady is just 6-6 in the playoffs.
Which leaves the Texans. The Texans are the best team in the AFC, with a potential defensive player of the year of their own in J.J. Watt, a stifling defense that ranks fourth in the league in defense and second in the league in offense. By definition, they are a more well-rounded team than the Broncos themselves. However, as well-rounded as the Texans are, the Broncos have Manning and the Texans have Matt Schaub.
In a league that is extremely pass-driven, the quarterbacks make all of the difference in this league. Schaub is a solid quarterback and a former Pro Bowler. However, he is not an elite quarterback. Not even close.
Manning ranks in the top three in just about every major passing category. Peyton has won a Super Bowl, is the second-winningest quarterback of all-time and is the league's only four-time NFL MVP. In fact, it is arguable that Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time.
Schaub has yet to even play in a playoff game. Could he very well lead the Texans to the Super Bowl? Of course. There's no reason why he couldn't. Schaub is a nine-year NFL veteran who is battle-tested at the age of 31. The problem is, he hasn't been battle-tested in the NFL postseason. Manning has been to the post-season 11 times and by the time this postseason starts, will have been to the playoffs 12 total times.
What is the point in all of this?
We have seen what this team is capable of. They have come back from a 24-point deficit against their fiercest rivals, they have embarked on a seven-game winning streak, they have become the most well-rounded team in the AFC outside of Houston.
The sky is the limit for this team.
The Denver Broncos will dictate just how high that sky is in the playoffs.
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