The magnitude of hand-wringing over the current state of the Denver Broncos has reached epic proportions. After yet another impotent offensive display in Week 5 by Peyton Manning and company, to some fans, it feels like the sky is falling.
I'm going to let you in on a not-so-little secret—the Broncos are 5-0.
And at 5-0, they're a near lock to make the playoffs. Do you know how many NFL teams would kill to say the same? The Broncos are undefeated and have as many wins than the rest of the AFC West combined.
Yes, Peyton Manning has been perplexing. He looks more like the quarterback from down the stretch last year, than the record-setting signal caller we came to know and expect in his first two and a half seasons in Denver.
Right now, Manning is being crushed beneath the mountain of expectation he has built for himself over a storied 18-year career. Fans are so used to seeing him dominate that when he does struggle (consistently), it's cause for alarm.
It does not compute in the minds of many that he would have more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6) more than a quarter of the way through the season. But he does.
Let's get one thing straight. Peyton Manning is not exempt from criticism.
He'd likely be the first person to say that. But on the other hand, Manning would also be the first to point out that Rome wasn't built in a day and that the grueling 16-game NFL season is a war of attrition that often resolves in January and beyond in ways that are completely unforeseeable in September or October.
We don't know how the Broncos season will play out. But we do know that the probability of Denver making the playoffs is extremely high. Their 5-0 start provides them with a cushion—with rope.
It relieves much of the pressure and provides Manning, the coaches and the offensive line the time and opportunity they need to improve. I said yesterday that I'm not as optimistic as I once was that Manning will turn the ship around this year.
But even if he only improves marginally, this Broncos team will be very tough to beat in January. If he cleans up his turnovers, improves his decision making and converts more regularly in the redzone, the Broncos will be a juggernaut.
And they don't need 55 touchdowns or 606 points in order to do it. They don't need the 2013 version of Manning to do it. Why?
Because the defense is playing lights out. The defense has been the game-changer. Just like when John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls in the late '90s, Manning doesn't have to carry this team anymore.
The defense is carrying the weight of the team. And that's exciting. That should be comforting to fans. Broncos Country no longer has to rely on a 39-year-old signal caller, with a neck four times surgically repaired, to hinge the fate of the season on.
Wade Phillips is onto something pretty special. And as long as his unit continues to stop the run, pressure the quarterback and get their hands on the football, the Broncos will win games. With a clutch long-distance kicker to boot, the team is balanced in all phases.
And that buys Manning and company the time they need to improve. The Broncos have one more road game vs. Cleveland before the bye. That will give them some R & R and the opportunity to self-scout and tweak their offensive approach.
The Broncos are always going to be tough to beat in Denver, especially with Manning under center. Because of their 5-0 start, and the fact that their biggest Conference competitors have to play in Denver, the Broncos are set up pretty nicely to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC—and homefield advantage.
These are musings and projections on the future that I'm only touching on now to help paint the picture that the Broncos are not only in a dominant position in their division, but they're set up nicely in the AFC, as well.
Take a deep breath, Broncos Country.
There's still a long road left to hoe. I'm reluctant to count Manning out or sell him short. But when he stinks up the joint, I'm going to call it like I see it. The exciting thing is that the Broncos are winning and Manning still has vast room for improvement.
If he can tap into just a portion of that potential, nobody will want to take on the Broncos in January.
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