By Rich Kurtzman
Denver locked up their division three weeks ago with their victory over the Chargers in San Diego, winning the AFC West for the second straight year for the first time since 1986-87. Of course, that hasn’t stopped them from running off three more wins—an NFL-high eight straight in all—and continuing to fight for playoff improved playoff positioning along the way.
The Broncos, at 10-3 before kickoff of the games Sunday, technically sit in second place in the AFC standings, but they’ve also played one more game than everyone else. Because the Houston Texans sit at 11-1, and they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver, the Broncos have little hope of catching them and gaining the No. 1 seed overall. But for the men in orange and blue, the No. 2 seed in the AFC, with a coveted by and the home field advantage for their first playoff game that comes with it, is still in reach. Like Houston, though, the New England Patriots own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos as well, making Monday’s game between the two powerhouses all-important for Denver.
Yes, it would benefit the Broncos for Houston to knock off the Patriots in New England, though it will be no easy task. The Patriots, led by veteran quarterback Tom Brady, possess the No. 1 offense in the entire NFL. Their 35.8 points per game are a full touchdown better than Denver’s 28.8, while they lead with a total of 426 yards per game as well. Brady is beastly behind center, running offense more efficiently and more quickly than anyone else today. The Patriots leave opponents gasping for air as they hurry to the line to call another play, only to have Brady hit one of his many deadly pass-catching threats.
Houston will put up a fight, allowing a fourth-best 18.4 points per game, and if they can force turnovers, it will only help the cause. More likely though, the Texans’ high-powered offense will have to try to keep up with the Pats, Monday. And if anyone can do it, Houston can. Matt Schaub is a special quarterback, with star wideout Andre Johnson to go to, they can score in one play. Not only through the air, as Arian Foster is arguably the best running back around today. He’s quick and strong, while also being incredibly speedy and able to break off long touchdowns on a whim.
There’s another game, one on TV today, that affects the Broncos as well—Baltimore at Washington. The Ravens are 9-3, and would improve to 10-3 to tie Denver, but due to their better conference record, would still hold a better playoff seeding if the two teams tie. That means Broncos fans are hoping the 6-6 Redskins, with their blossoming star Robert Griffin III, can beat Baltimore. RGIII is magical, rejuvenating the Redskins’ fanbase and becoming a rock star in less than an entire season in the league. Mike Shanahan not only knows how to use RGIII by rolling him out and letting him run the rock, he also still believes in a balanced offense, giving big boy Alfred Morris the ball on the ground a great deal, too.
But Baltimore is a tough team, led by a gritty, albeit injured, defense. Ray Lewis is injured, and so is Terrell Suggs, but there’s still playmakers and hard-hitters. And the Ravens’ offense shouldn’t be slept on. Joe Flacco doesn’t get nearly enough respect for his great play as of late, and Torrey Smith is an athletic freak of a receiver. Their offense is fueled by running back Ray Rice though, the dynamic runner that loves to break long runs inside and out. He also gives their offense a chance to control the clock, making it even more difficult for Washington Sunday.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.