The Denver Broncos’ regular season has been some sort of rollercoaster ride. A large proportion of NFL fans didn’t think they were deserving of their initial 7-0 start. Manning didn’t look like his old self and the offence struggled. Apart from the home game against Green Bay, there wasn’t much to be excited about. Who would’ve thought? A team starts the season 7-0 yet there were still doubts about that offence, a whole lot of them. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, Denver’s defence were making a real name for themselves as the best in the league led by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
And then came that Kansas City home game.
The Broncos had just lost their first game of the season (27-24) the previous week at Indianapolis, a game where the offence struggled once again.
This had everything to be a great day for Broncos fans. Peyton hadn’t lost to the Chiefs as a Bronco, he was just a few yards from the all-time passing yards record and with a win Denver would be in position to take control of the AFC West. However, all of this was short lived. The Sheriff ended up going 5/20 for 35 yards, 0 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in a 29-13 loss. Manning was not only benched but joined both his brother and father on the list of quarterbacks to have posted a passer rating of 0. He did break the passing yards record earlier in the game however, I’m sure that’s a game he won’t want to be remembered for.
Later that week it was revealed Peyton had been suffering from plantar fascia for several months prior and would be evaluated week to week. This was not good news for Broncos Country… or was it?
On comes Brock Osweiler. The 2nd round pick out of Arizona State made his first regular season start at Chicago and handled himself very well against ex-coach John Fox. Impressive wins against the undefeated Patriots and Chargers followed and apart from the two hiccups against the Raiders at home and Steelers on the road, he finished the season strong with the win against the Bengals until being benched for a healthy Manning on the last game of the regular season by not doing too much wrong.
While Coach Kubiak and Elway tried to figure out the quarterback puzzle, other important elements began to unfold. DT and Vernon Davis dropped the ball, literally, several times. The O-Line struggled and the defence continued to play lights out. Injuries started to emerge and then there were those HGH allegations by Al-Jazeera (which I don’t even want to go into). But trust me, there wasn’t much time for concern, in fact, week 17 ended extremely well with a New England defeat at Miami and a hard fought victory over a San Diego Chargers team in their last game before a probable relocation to Los Angeles.
So here we are now…
With the Wildcard Round over (with road wins in all games for the first time in NFL history) things surely looks like it’s firing up. A sixth seed in Pittsburgh is what’s next for the Broncos but don’t let the lowest seed in the AFC fool you. They display the most dangerous set of receivers in the NFL and a quarterback with plenty of experience in Big Ben. In my opinion this game will be won in the secondary and the running game. If Harris and Talib (with a healthy TJ Ward and Darian Stewart) can keep Brown, Bryant and Wheaton relatively quiet this means their primary weapons are cut short. As for CJ and Hillman, if they can combine for a big game, it will surely provide the spark the offence needs and alleviate Peyton from a lot of pressure which will be extremely beneficial.
Choosing Manning to start was a very good choice by Kubiak. Brock, the team and the fans know that he’s the future, but we cannot go into the playoffs with a first ballot half of famer on the bench especially if he’s as healthy as he says he is.
The road to Super Bowl 50 in the AFC goes through Denver, and the Broncos will be looking to capitalise on home field advantage whether it’s getting revenge over the division rival Chiefs or the long time foe in Brady and the Patriots.
One thing’s for sure though, Peyton will give his all for a possible last roll of the dice and let’s hope this rollercoaster ride stays mile high going into February.
By Gustavo Rodrigues