1) Peyton Mannig – “The General”
Let’s cut right to the chase. A team is bigger than one player, even if his name is Peyton Manning. But the fact that his name is Peyton Manning warrants placement at number 1 on this list.
Manning came to Denver in a blockbuster free-agency move that sparked excitement unseen in Bronco Country since the days of Elway and his back-to-back Super Bowls. But the pundits were quick to caution. He’s old. He’s not healthy. His arm isn’t what it used to be. He will never be the quarterback he once was.
The pundits were 3 for 4.
Peyton Manning is playing some of the finest football of his career. The stats don’t lie. But with Manning, it’s bigger than statistics. You’d have a hard time convincing me that Peyton wouldn’t hand the ball off 100 times a game if he thought it would benefit the team. And that’s exactly the point. Manning will always take what the defense gives him. Which is precisely the reason he calls nearly the entire offense from the line of scrimmage. Always has. Always will. One could argue that Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy has the best gig in the NFL. But that’s a topic for another post.
Manning is playing lights-out! And the offense appears more in-sync with each passing week. This doesn’t just spell trouble for the rest of the AFC west. It spells trouble for the rest of the league.
2) The Culture
Manning’s entrance into free-agency sent media outlets and NFL front offices alike into a tizzy. Predictions and “info from inside sources” were the order of the day. The rumor mill had a number of teams in the running, including the Arizona Cardinals, the Miami Dolphins, the Tennessee Titans, and (of course) the Denver Broncos. But when all the dust settled, Manning chose Denver. Wondering why? I’ll tell you. It’s the culture stupid.
The Broncos haven’t done much of significance since Elway hung up his jersey 12 years ago. We muddled through the Brian Griese years. Jake Plumber showed occasional flashes of brilliance. That is before he disappeared into the woods of Idaho to smoke joints and play professional handball. Then there was Cutler. Meh. McDaniels and Orton, double meh. And Tim Tebow? I think we can all agree that quite a ride, but an anomaly nonetheless.
What’s my point? The Broncos organization, and the fans that adamanttaly back it, never faltered. Mile High Stadium (or Invesco at Mile High, or Sport’s Authority Field, or whatever their calling it nowadays) has sold out every game for decades. There is a sports culture in Denver that not only wants another Super Bowl, they’re demanding it. And if you don’t think that counts for something, then I’m willing to bet you were never an athlete. Every player on that roster knows what the Orange and Blue stands for. And lately, they’ve been playing like it.
3) The Division
A discussion about the Broncos impending Super Bowl run could hardly be taken seriously if we didn’t at least touch on the Broncos path to the playoffs. And that discussion has to start in one place… the AFC west. A division that, at best, could be called “forgiving”.
The Broncos’ biggest threat in the division is the San Diego Chargers. Known by fans and haters alike as a case study in perpetual under-performance. And if there was ever any doubt, their 2nd half meltdown in Prime Time against (you guessed it) the Denver Broncos, was proof positive. Giving up 35 unanswered points, on their way to blowing a 24 point first half lead, at home, on Monday Night Football, in a Divisional matchup… That is the stuff of legend. Enough said.
Bringing up the rear of the division is the Kansas City chiefs, a team that went 9 weeks into the regular season before they ever played a single minute of regulation football with a lead. Remarkable. And just think, if Josh McDaniels would have had his way, Cheifs quarterback Matt Cassel would have become the Broncos’ liability years ago. Could make for an interesting theoretical blog post: “Cassel, McDaniels and the Peter Principle“. But I digress. The Chiefs organization is in a tailspin, and is so engaged in their race to the bottom with the Oakland Raiders that they appear to have forgotten that this league is actually about winning.
Speaking of the Radiers… What can I say about them that hasn’t been said already. They haven’t been any good since the days of Bo Jackson. And Bo Jackson is old. The Al Davis era is over. And in the absence of a leader who not only accepted dirty play and a bad reputation, but who embraced them, Raider nation appears to be nothing if not confused and inconsequential.
The AFC West Title is an absolute lock for the Broncos. No sense in spilling any more ink over it. Continue Reading…