The (10-3) Denver Broncos must go on the road this week to do battle with the (8-5) San Diego Chargers. Had the Chargers defeated the New England Patriots on Sunday night, this week's game would have been for all of the marbles in the AFC West.
But they did not emerge victorious. And now they're two games back from the Broncos and fighting for their playoff lives. The Broncos, on the other hand, took care of business vs the Buffalo Bills, and with a win this week, would clinch the AFC West Divisional crown and a playoff berth.
If the playoffs started this week, the Chargers would be the No. 6 seed and the Broncos the No. 2. Although the Broncos have the same record as the Patriots, the boys from Boston own the head-to-head tiebreaker. For the Broncos to win the No. 1 seed, they'd not only have to win out, but the Patriots would have to drop one more game, and looking at their remaining schedule, that is extremely unlikely.
For Broncos head coach, John Fox, he could join some very elite company in the AFC West coaching annals, if he can guide the Broncos to a victory this Sunday. He would become the first AFC West head coach to win four-straight division titles, since Hall of Famer, John Madden, accomplished the feat in the 1970's.
Since Madden, no AFC West head coach has won more than three-consecutive division titles, including Mike Shanahan. Madden won five-straight (1972-76) with the Oakland Raiders. Fox isn't worried about his place in history. Right now, he's focused solely on pulling out the victory, which would guarantee the Broncos a playoff berth.
When asked about the opportunity to win four-straight division crowns, Fox was all business.
“We don’t really get into that part. All of our focus is on San Diego," said Fox via the team. "We’re not focused on anything else. They’re a division team, somebody that we’ve already faced once this year. This time it will be at their place. We’re looking forward to that challenge.”
The Chargers are the only AFC West opponent to beat the Broncos, since Peyton Manning came to Denver. Last season, the Chargers beat the Broncos at home by controlling the clock and converting on third down. However, earlier this season, the Broncos beat the Chargers 35-21. On the road, vs a desperate opponent, Fox knows Phillip Rivers and company will come out swinging.
“He’s very good (Rivers)," Fox said. "He’s had a very productive year, one of the better performing quarterbacks in the National Football League [out of the] ones we’ve seen. We’ve already gotten to play him once, but [he is a] pretty intense competitor. We’ll have our hands full for sure.”
The Broncos will be prepared for the Chargers best shot this week. Under Fox's stewardship, the Broncos have risen to the upper echelon of the NFL. Much of that success can be attributed to Peyton Manning but John Elway's ability to construct a roster cannot be underestimated. Together, Elway and Fox have become formidable talent evaluators and top free agent facilitators.
They have drafted well and have found players left on the post-draft refuse pile who have contributed mightily to the team. Chris Harris, Jr and C.J. Anderson come to mind, both former undrafted rookie free agents, who now have key starting roles on the team. Some Broncos fans get frustrated with Fox and his conservative nature at times, but don't take him for granted. His steady hand has resulted in a 44-17 record and an AFC Championship.
The only thing left for Fox to accomplish, is winning a Super Bowl. He came close last year, but alas, no cigar. He has changed the face of his team's offensive identity, over the last few weeks, in order to be more competitive in the post-season. With a dominant running game, an Hall of Fame quarterback and a stifling, opportunistic defense, Fox has the recipe for a championship. Now, it's just a matter of executing it.