Wayne Root: Can Anyone Stop the Denver Broncos?!
The New England Patriots will try to be the team to do just that this Sunday afternoon in a game that all NFL lovers will be watching very intently. As THE KING OF UPSETS, I have to be on the lookout for teams who are capable of taking out any favorite. Denver has been so dominant this season that many pundits are starting to think of them as the Super Bowl champs already.
Nobody wins the Super Bowl on November 1!
You can go back to any season and see right away that the "best" teams halfway through the season weren’t able to hold onto that lofty perch. Now, I will admit that Denver is playing best right now. I have them at the top of my Power Ratings. All other possible contenders are either dealing with chemistry issues, injury issues, defensive issues, or have already lost to Denver straight up (or failed to beat them in regulation at home, like Seattle).
What could happen between now and the end of the season?
*Opponents getting healthier
*Opponents making adjustments
*Denver losing ROAD games to top teams
Denver is beating other contenders…but those have been at home! They beat Indianapolis. They beat Kansas City. They beat San Francisco. They beat San Diego. Hey, all of that may set up home field advantage for the playoffs. But, come Super Bowl time, the Broncos won’t be a mile high, and will be less able to wear out opposing defenses with their fast pace.
That’s why this New England game is so important in terms of evaluating Denver’s true championship hopes. If Peyton Manning and company are dominant in this latest rematch with Tom Brady on the ROAD, then you have to very seriously consider the Broncos as a true and dominant frontrunner barring injuries. A few teams are capable of playing over their heads and upsetting Denver. But, nobody in the AFC (and probably the NFL) would be "better" than Denver if they are convincing victors in Foxboro.
On the other hand, if New England wins…then there’s hope for the Pats in January, as well as Cincinnati, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Diego, or Kansas City (though not all of those will reach the postseason!).
To me, the same fundamentals that worked against Denver last year can beat them this season:
*Keep the ball away from Manning with a ball-control approach
*Pressure him constantly to keep him from getting into rhythm
*Wear out Denver’s defense instead of letting them wear out you
*Emphasize the turnover category because you can’t give away easy points
I’m confident that we can say right now that any team who beats Denver will have pulled most or all of those off. It’s the only way to beat them! And, again, a few teams are capable of it. Actually doing it is something else entirely. New England knows what it has to do. Can they get I done?
Current pointspread projections show Denver being a favorite every time out for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean that 15-1 (undefeated 15-0-1 at the end of regulation) is a lock because it’s very hard to sweep a series of games priced around a field goal. Let’s assume the Broncos win as favorites of more than a TD against Oakland (twice), St. Louis, Miami, and Buffalo. That’s 11 wins right there. The most serious testers remaining:
Sunday: at New England, where Denver is favored by 3 points
November 30: at Kansas City, where Denver will be favored in the same range
December 14: at San Diego, where Denver will be favored in the same range
December 22: at Cincinnati (MNF), where Denver will be favored in the same range or a bit more
That’s four "challenge" games that will represent quality opponents likely to bring playoff intensity. Frankly, those could all be tougher than playoff games because they’ll be played on the road! I have actually circled the one or two from that list that are the most likely upsets. Will one of those be this coming Sunday in Foxboro?
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