Only three games left to play in the 2012 NFL regular season, and the Denver Broncos just might get a first round bye. The gamble that sent Tim Tebow to the New York Jets while going all in on Peyton Manning, a hall of fame bound quarterback coming off neck surgeries paid off, with the profits currently showing in the 8 game winning streak.
The Oakland Raiders, having a little bit of streaking of their own (losing that is) were never going to stop a team that since week 6 has looked like one of the best in the NFL. A quarterback with MVP written all over his play not because of the stats but because of what he does to a team when he’s on or off it, a running game that’s been doing great and a defense that is exciting to watch but more importantly hasn’t allowed more than 24 points since early October.
Manning threw his fourth consecutive interception in the win over the Raiders, but it was a 26-13 that wasn’t really that close. He’s thrown six interceptions over the last six games, but also 13 touchdowns over that time span. His arm strength might not be what it used to be, but the Broncos are working around that and Manning has adjusted as well. Completing 26 of his 36 passes against the Raiders, Manning is second in the NFL with a 68.3% completion ratio and the 4th best passer rating in the league with 104.
John Elway knew what he was doing. Tim Tebow was exciting, and the fans loved him. He can energize a team and create havoc that he thrives in, but it’s only good enough up to a certain point. The ceiling of that potential and of his belief in Tebow to become more than just a running quarterback with the occasional big pass made everything happen. Peyton Manning understood he was no longer wanted in Indy and picked a team tailored for him to take forward. It was a slightly rough start, but sailing couldn’t have been any smoother over the last two months.
Now the question remains is if the Broncos are this good because of a soft schedule, or have they actually made the right changes. Remember, their 3 losses are to the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons. Three teams with five losses combined. During their winning streak, they’ve beaten the San Diego Chargers twice, Kansas City and teams like Carolina and New Orleans. Not exactly the cream of the crop.
But the important thing is that they’ve been looking good. Manning, maybe more than anything, means confidence and good decisions. He worked the shotgun to perfection against the Raiders; completing 76.9 percent of his passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He has an NFL best 69.8% completion rate when he’s passing from the shotgun.
His ability to handle pressure has vastly improved as the season went along, feeling more and more like the Manning of old. He faced five or more pass rushers on 19 of his 39 dropbacks (48.7 percent) Thursday, the second-highest percentage he’s faced in a game this season. He completed 76.5% his passes when facing five or more pass rushers in the win, and is 61.1% this season under that kind of pressure.
With a defense that’s 3rd in the NFL, allowing 309.4 yards per game along with 19.8 point per game; with a running game (Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno) that’s getting over 100 yards per game to complement the passing; and obviously with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the Broncos are in a much better, healthier shape than they were a year ago.