There is just no getting around it; for the most part, Denver has played great football in 2014. Their scoring offense is 3rd in the league. Manning does lead the league in TD passes. The rushing game is in the bottom third of the league, but the Broncos really do not care about running - they like to throw. The team has scored 34 passing and 8 rushing TD’s in 11 games. They have been held to below 30 points only 4 times in 11 games, losses against the Rams, Pats and Seahawks, and a 24-17 win over the Chiefs. But getting this team to 8-3 right now is not just a result of the top shelf offense. This season, Denver is also playing defense at a high level.
Their defense is #5 in yards allowed, although it does give up more points than the league average (18th). The defense has produced 28 sacks and 11 INT’s so far, and recovered another 9 fumbles. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are probably the best sacking bookends outside of Kansas City; both are on pace for around 15 sacks this season. After the debacle in New York last February, GM John Elway made a concerted effort to improve the defense and it has showed so far this year. The one blemish to a good defensive unit is a tendency to give up big plays. This is where the yardage/points scored discrepancy comes from. The defense will either get you off the field in 3 plays, get you to turn it over after a short drive, or let you score a 60 yard passing TD. Statistically, the Broncos defend the run well, but that stat is somewhat deceptive; most teams abandon the run game after they get behind and this season, Denver has had fewer rushing attempts against them than any other team in the league.
What to Watch For
Sea level. The Broncos are a perfect 6-0 at home this season, with the Bills and Raiders being the only regular season home games left. Their record away from home is 2-3, with the wins coming against the Jets and Raiders. The Rams game demonstrated that against competent opponents on the road, this is an extremely beatable team, especially if you can play some defense.
They play KC, San Diego, and Cincinnati away from Mile High over these last 5 weeks and all of these teams are statistically among the better defensive teams in the NFL. With a one game lead in their division, Denver will need at least one quality win on the road and an 11-5 record or better to win the AFC West.
With 12 TDs, Julius Thomas is a threat to break Rob Gronkowski’s record for receiving TD’s by a TE in a single season. The current record is 17 scored by "Gronk" in 2011. However, with 5 games left to go, Thomas’ recent TD drought has left safe Randy Moss’ single season receiving TD record of 23, scored in 2007. Tom Brady was the QB for both of those records.
Alex Smith is far from a complete QB; we all know that from the lack of any field-stretching throws from him. Despite that, I do not believe that he is a BAD QB. He does exactly what Andy Reid wants him to do in an offense that looks quite familiar to those of us that watched football in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. For the purest West Coast offense out there, Smith is the perfect driver for that bus. This team is what the 1989 49ers would have looked like without Montana and Rice. The system still works when the combo is Smith and Bowe, it is just not as much fun to watch. KC's offense is more efficient than you probably think it is. The Chiefs are slightly above average in points scored (13th), but 23rd in offense yards.
It is on the defensive side of the ball though that the Chiefs make their mark. Led by Justin Houston and his 13 sacks, this unit is the 2nd stingiest in the league at giving up points. The remarkable part of that performance is that the Chiefs do not get a lot of turnovers. In fact, they are near the bottom of the league in getting turnovers. Of course, the safe (boring) offense is also near the bottom of the league in giving the ball away, so it really does even out. In many ways, Head Coach Andy Reid has put together a team that reflects the city they play in. The Chiefs are not flashy, do not have any "must see" elements about the team, but are all in all, a solid team. At 7-4, they have a good shot at the playoffs, and if the Broncos stumble, the division title is still a possibility.
What to Watch For
Fighting off the crowd. There are only 4 teams that are really out of the Wild Card hunt in the AFC: Oakland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and New York. Buffalo and Houston are probably not viable contenders at this point, either. Take away the four teams atop their divisions and that leaves 6 teams fighting for 2 spots: The Chiefs, Chargers, Dolphins, Browns, Ravens, and Steelers. The Chiefs do get to play the Raiders at home down the stretch, but there are tougher games on the schedule: at Arizona, at Pittsburgh, and hosting the Broncos. And then there is the last game of the season, hosting a San Diego tean which may still have playoff aspirations of its own at that point. In a field this crowded, there is truly no margin for error -- their loss against Oakland last Thursday removed that completely.
Among active coaches, Andy Reid is second in winning percentage (.592) behind Bill Belichick (.658). He needs 12 more wins to move into 3rd place past Jeff Fisher for most wins by an active head coach, assuming Fisher does not win any more games and somehow manages to stay active without any more wins.
See the rest of the blog for what is going with this team in 2014.
What to Watch For
Everything! This is the team we love!
The team’s all-time leading Tackler is (of course) Junior Seau, with 1,286 from 1990 through 2002. The second place man on that list is Gary Plummer, with 792 from 1986 – 1993.
This is what, 13 coaches in 19 years? 16 starting QB's in 12 years? 10 years of bad drafting? 12 years of unwise free agent speculation? And an owner living 30 years in the past from 2001 through 2011 looks like? I could make an uncharitable remark, but I’ll leave it with the observation that there is nothing pretty about 1-10. With that said, this is the NFL and things can change in a hurry. The Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012 and went to the playoffs the next year. Our own Chargers were 1-15 in 2000 and went to the playoffs in 2004. And let us not forget about Detroit that went 0-16 in 2008 and made the playoffs in 2011.
With the passing of Davis in 2011, the Raiders have actually had some conventional wisdom draft picks in the past two years. There are some potential stars on their roster right now. None of these will be more crucial than 2nd round pick Derek Carr. If the Raiders can get a franchise QB on their roster and he does not lose his mind while the team is trying to assemble some talent around him, they may become relevant far sooner than any Charger fan would prefer. The other item on the list of possible relevancy is finding a good head coach. It remains to be seen if Tony Sparano can be the man that builds up the Raiders into respectability.
What to Watch For
If removing the interim from Tony Sparano is justified. Most agree that the Oakland franchise has not benefited from the revolving door at the Head Coach office in the Coliseum. With the front office recently making sensible early draft picks (and in line to make more in 2015), the team should have some decent talent to put on the field sooner and not later. As Bolt’s fans can attest though, having a talented team is frustrating unless there is also decent coaching of that talent. Think of the last 5 games of 2013 as part of the longest job interview ever. Based upon the guys celebrating offsides before the KC game was over, I personally do not think that Sparano is the guy for the job. I sure hope Oakland keeps him.
John Madden, with 103 wins as Oakland’s Head Coach, can probably live until he is 90 and then pass away in 2026, with the knowledge that he remains the winningest coach of a franchise that had the best post-merger NFL overall won-loss record for nearly 3 and half decades.