Denver/St. Louis NFL Preseason Preview
CAN PEYTON MANNING LEAD THE BRONCOS ALL THE WAY TO THE SUPER BOWL?
There were two ways to read what Peyton Manning accomplished last year for the Denver Broncos during a 13-3 campaign. The first suggested that he could still win big at this level even after undergoing what many were afraid was career-threatening neck surgery. The other was that veteran savvy and quick thinking can dominate a poor conference full of mediocre (or worse) quarterbacks…but that reaching the playoffs is going to represent the ceiling for a guy who no longer throws with much zip.
If you look at the numbers, it’s easy to build a case for legitimate Super Bowl contention. If you look at the wobbly spiral that appears on anything beyond 10 yards…the “eye test” reveals potential issues that could prevent the elder Manning from ever getting back to play for the Lombardi Trophy.
Last year Denver dominated a horrible division and earned the #1 seed in the AFC. All that got them was a home field loss to AFC North champion and eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. Denver lost during the regular season to AFC East champion New England, and AFC South champion Houston. Denver’s division last year was lined up to play the NFC South in interconference action. Denver lost to NFC South champion Atlanta, too.
Meaning…the 13-4 record counting the playoffs featured four losses to divisional champs. Manning can get to the playoffs, and even earn a #1 seed against a weak schedule. Can he win three games in a row once he gets to the playoffs?
Scouts and sharps have been watching Manning very closely this month. If he can improve on his downfield zip…then Denver’s true Super Bowl odds get a whole lot better. If he’s just going to be a savvy veteran who just dinks and dunks in a weak conference, then you can bet him against weak defenses…but need to back off vs. quality.
Keep that in mind tonight as you watch Denver host the St. Louis Rams in a game that will be nationally televised by CBS. The Rams first team defense isn’t quite elite…but it’s fully capable of providing a test. Let’s see how the two teams stack up in our indicator numbers. Note that Denver is favored by 6.5, with a total of 43.5, as we go to press…Standings/Turnovers/Schedule
St. Louis: 7-8-1, -1 turnover, #2 ranked schedule
Denver: 13-3, -1 turnover, #24 ranked schedule
That tie for St. Louis was against eventual NFC champion San Francisco. So, it’s okay if you want to technically consider that a win! The Rams were basically a .500 caliber team while playing one of the most brutal schedules in the league. That suggests they might possibly have been a Wildcard team if they played in the AFC. St. Louis scored wins over San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington in 2012. Denver played a bottom third schedule, and dominated it.
St. Louis: 5.3 on offense, 5.3 on defense
Denver: 5.8 on offense, 4.6 on defense
Denver crushes bad teams…and will probably be capable of doing that this year. St. Louis deserves a lot of credit for having a break-even differential against that killer schedule.Third Down Conversions
St. Louis: 32% on offense, 38% on defense
Denver: 45% on offense, 31% on defense
This is where you see the differences in quarterback really come to light. Sam Bradford of St. Louis just hasn’t figured out how to move the chains. Quarterbacks are supposed to get better at that skill as they gain experience. Bradford is HORRIBLE at this skill, and no amount of arm strength and “fitting the profile” may be able to fix that. Manning can move the chains in his sleep. He probably does!
Should Denver be favored by almost a touchdown given the numbers you see above? There’s a lot to like about the Rams as a feisty dog…until you get to that inability to move the chains. JIM HURLEY has been studying this game very closely because he knows his clients love watching themselves win on TV. But there are TEN games to choose from on the Saturday slate, and there’s no reason to force a TV play.
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Back with you tomorrow to run the numbers in Minnesota/San Francisco. That’s the prime time game Sunday Night on NBC…meaning the final showdown of dress rehearsal weekend. Our big game TV previews will pick up again Thursday with the start of college football. On tap: North Carolina/South Carolina on Thursday, Texas Tech/SMU on Friday, and Georgia/Clemson Saturday.
Peyton Manning may have lost some zip…but JIM HURLEY is throwing AS HARD AS EVER! Link up now with NETWORK and GET THE MONEY!
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