While the Atlanta Falcons and most of the National Football League are still addressing uncertainties regarding their winning formulas, there is one team in the NFL that I can confidently say could run the table for the rest of the regular season.
Here's a hint: its starting quarterback’s name is Manning.
Wouldn’t I be insulting your intelligence to clarify which Manning I was referring to? If you’ve seen even one Denver Broncos game this season, you would probably just take my work for it, no questions asked, right?
Setting rhetoric aside, I’ll provide some explanation for why I think the 2013 Denver Broncos are going to be one of those teams, like the ’72 Dolphins and the ’85 Bears, we will talk about for a long time.
First, let's state the obvious: Peyton Manning is this season’s Most Valuable Player. The man, who leads the league with 2,179 yards passing, has a passer rating of 128.8 through six games, and it gets better in the second half and when the margin of victory is seven points or less. He’s been sacked five times this season, but three of these came in week one against the relentless Baltimore pass rush. Finally, NFL fans are familiar with Manning’s legendary ability to read defenses and manage pressure.
Yes, he is human. Manning has two interceptions on the season, but neither came in the fourth quarter, giving him enough time to adjust and bounce back.
He doesn’t make many mistakes and, if he does, won’t make the same mistake twice.
This season, Manning finally has some of the best offensive weapons in the NFL accompanying him.
The Broncos decision to snatch up wide receiver Wes Welker was probably the best move any team made this off-season. He’s been targeted 50 times and has 37 receptions, 23 have gone for first downs. When Welker has secured the catch, all he sees is pay dirt: with eight touchdowns this season, and 142 yards after catch, his route doesn’t have to be deep toward the end zone for him to score.
Welker, however, is not the team’s leader in the YAC category. The Georgia native Demaryius Thomas has proven to be the most pleasant surprise for Denver this season at wide receiver, and is second in the NFL with a whopping 255 YAC. He also leads the team in receiving yards, with 528, and has four touchdowns to boot.
In addition, the 6-foot-5 tight end Julius Thomas has proven to be a solid target for Manning to rely on; his seven touchdowns span over every game this season except one. Wide out Eric Decker rounds out the lethal receiving core, second on the Broncos in receiving yards, with 477.
In the past few weeks, there is yet another weapon that has emerged that the Broncos can and have utilized. Knowshon Moreno, a player still close to the hearts of the Georgia Bulldog faithful (and someone who I regret passing up in my fantasy league) displayed he has the dependability to be considered as the Broncos’ number one running back, in last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Moreno, who finished last Sunday with career high three touchdowns, proved that if Manning struggles, Moreno can protect the ball and allow Denver to control the clock and add points to the board. Moreno, who hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2009, is beginning looking just as elusive as he did with the Bulldogs.
Obviously the Broncos have the weapons to succeed in running the table, but their schedule from here on out is not an easy one with regards to three particular games: versus the Kansas City Chiefs in week 11, the following week at the New England Patriots, and the following week at Kansas City.
Yes, that is a gauntlet of tough matchups, but I think Denver will persevere through all of them as long as it stays healthy.
The Chiefs' defense has been very efficient in stopping the pass: it is third in the league in opponent’s average passing yards per game with about 190. The Chiefs are 23rd, however, in stopping the run with an average of about 117 yards. Not only will the Chiefs have to deal with Moreno, but it will also have to respect Manning on play action, and he is one of the best in the league at selling the play-fake.
Offensively, running back Jamaal Charles has proven to be fairly effective this season with 475 yards rushing and five touchdowns. However, Denver’s defense is first in the league in average rushing yards allowed with about 70. This will force quarterback Alex Smith to throw the ball late in the game, and let’s be honest: I’ll take Manning in a shootout over anyone. Add the advantage of playing at Mile High, and I think the Broncos will be 10-0 coming out of week 11.
The following week against the Patriots in Foxboro will be their biggest test of the season. New England has proven to be very effective in shutting down opposing tight ends this season; it did it last week to the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham, and I’m sure you wish you had forgotten about the Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzales. In addition, the Patriots may have an advantage in that it is familiar with the strengths of Tom Brady’s former target, Welker.
Even with Thomas shutdown and Welker blanketed (both easier said than done), I think the Broncos have just too many other weapons that can exploit the shallow Patriot secondary. There will be fireworks for sure, but Manning may prove to best Brady in a blow-for-blow bout before facing the Chiefs for a second time in week 13.
It could prove more difficult to beat Kansas City a second time on the road, but I think Manning, having beaten the Chiefs once already, will find a way to pull his team through to an incredible 12-0.
How can you pick against this offense?
The Denver schedule is fairly simple after that. It has to go on the road to Houston to face the Texans, but this team has been absolutely reeling of late, and I doubt much will change between now and then.
While it are still my favorite for the Super Bowl, I have been hesitant to say that Denver will keep their streak going through the playoffs. After all, we’ve seen in the past that any team can win on the national stage.
Former Bulldog Dannell Ellerbe got his ring last season. When it’s all said and done, perhaps another Georgia alumnus can finish this season with some new jewelry.
-Taylor Denman is a sophomore journalism major from Suwanee