I don't subscribe to power rankings. I've mentioned it before. The NFL landscape is constantly shifting under the feet of the teams at the top of the mountain. It's a fluid animal.
That being said, over the last few weeks, the Denver Broncos have cemented themselves as the best team in the league. I think most analysts and fans would agree with that. With three consecutive wins by at least a two-score margin, it's hard to argue against them being the best.
Of the seven opponents the Broncos have faced thus far, five of them were playoff teams last year, and one of them (Arizona Cardinals), won ten games. The Dallas Cowboys, as impressive as they've been, have only faced two playoff teams thus far. They won one and lost one. What the Broncos have accomplished is more impressive.
It's been an arduous battle of attrition to get to 6-1. And with the New England Patriots next up on the schedule, in Foxboro, it doesn't get any easier in the immediate future. But as dominant as the Broncos have been of late, they're still nowhere near as complete of a team as they have it in them to be.
There are some issues in the Mile High City, but if they ironed them out, the Broncos would be unstoppable. Since the season started, we've questioned whether the Broncos have a killer instinct. They have had opportunities to close teams out and put games away, but have struggled to do so at times. See weeks 1 and 2 vs the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
Both of those games were at home and came down the the last possession of the opposition. In both instances, the Broncos had the opportunity to step on the necks of the opponent, earlier in the game and slam the door on any hope of a comeback. But they were unable to do so.
Closing games out is not the only issue holding the Broncos back from being even better. An overall lack of focus and sloppy play on the field, has also hamstrung them. The most obvious indicator of this deficiency has been penalties.
The Broncos have committed 57 penalties, which have cost them 482 yards. They are averaging more than 8 penalties per game, good for 5th most in the NFL. They are on pace to give up more than 1,000 yards to the opposition, as a result. An alarming statistic.
This smudge on their resume stands in glaring contrast to their prolific scoring offense (1st) and suffocating defense (7th), which begs the question;
Why are they so proficient on both sides of the ball, but are failing miserably in committing penalties?
It's hard to say. You could blame the coaching staff. It's their job, ultimately, to prepare their players and put them in the best position to be disciplined out on the field. However, it must be said that from a scheme perspective, the Broncos coaches have (mostly) done an excellent job, both on offense and defense.
But no matter how prepared and well coached they are, it's the players' responsibility to execute. For many in Broncos Country, that's what has been so frustrating. On one hand, the Broncos are dominating on both sides of the ball, but on the other, they've been unfocused and sloppy, giving up almost 500 yards in penalties.
And eventually, those mistakes are going to cost them a victory. The Broncos have been fortunate to play 5 of their first 7 games at home. Their only road games have been at the Seattle Seahawks and at the New York Jets. It's easier to overcome mistakes when a team has the crowd behind them.
However, next week, in Foxboro, the Broncos will be subject to a highly hostile environment. And they'll be facing a head coach, in Bill Belichick, who has been Peyton Manning's career nemesis. At 8-14 (including playoffs), Manning's record vs the Patriots is abysmal. And it's a narrative that has hounded him throughout his career.
To compound the issue, the Patriots always play the Broncos tough. Since Manning came to Denver, the Broncos have faced the Patriots three times, twice on the road. The Broncos have only won one of those matchups, but it was a very meaningful win; the AFC Championship game last January.
Both losses have come on the road. Week 9 will mark the third consecutive season that the Broncos have had to travel to take on the Patriots. And even though it can be argued that the 2014 Patriots are not the championship-caliber team of yore, they are still the best coached team in the league and they have a quarterback, in Tom Brady, who has defeated Manning 14 times.
If the Broncos don't use the next 8 days as an opportunity to clean up their game and as Manning is always telling his guys in the huddle, "hone in", they are unlikely to win next week. Even though on paper, the Broncos have a superior roster than the Patriots, playing in Foxboro is just a different animal. All bets are off.
I've heard the concern that maybe the Broncos are "peaking" too early. Nonsense. This team still has plenty of room for improvement. And that scares the teams of the National Football League. If the Broncos could clean up this area of their game, there's not a team in the league who could beat them. You could say that I'm nit-picking here. But any player on this roster would tell you the same thing. The Denver Broncos could be even better.