The Broncos need to win tomorrow if they're to keep alive any hopes of gaining a top-two seed and first-round bye in this year's playoffs.
But beyond those loftiest of goals, a Denver victory tomorrow would be significant on its own, as it would ensure the Broncos of being no worse than the AFC's number-three seed in the playoffs. Denver would move to 11-3, drop Baltimore to 9-5, and also own a head-to-head tiebreaker over them, were both teams to finish with 11 wins.
The difference between a three and four seed may not seem that great at first glance, but without knowing how the rest of the AFC will shake out, it certainly could end up being a big deal.
Readers of this site are well aware that we collectively favor aggression on fourth down.
One or two yards to gain, anywhere from near midfield to the opposing goal line? Go for it.
Third-and-short from within that same area? Call your play with the intent to go for it on fourth if you fail, barring a loss of yardage on third.
Peyton Manning scores touchdowns--that's all he does. Putting the ball in the hands of your punter, or at the foot of your placekicker, provides said touchdown-scorer with fewer opportunities with which to score touchdowns.
It really is that simple.
Division title? Check.
Home playoff game? Got that.
First-round bye? That's what remains for the Broncos as far as regular-season ambitions go. Home field throughout would be a nice bonus, but it's an outside possibility at this point, and of course, going undefeated within the AFCW would also be nice.
Denver can get another step closer to attaining those goals tonight at Oakland, with what would be their eighth consecutive win, on a short turnaround for both teams.
The Broncos may have struggled to beat the Chiefs last week, but the victory still extended Denver's winning streak to six games - the NFL's longest current one.
Another win tomorrow, over the visiting Bucs, would make for only the fourth win streak of seven or more games in Broncos history. It would also make Denver AFCW champs in consecutive seasons for just the third time ever.
With the Broncos' rivals embroiled in streaks of the losing variety - KC's dropped eight, Oakland four, and San Diego three - the division title is a foregone conclusion. And once that formality is wrapped up with the next Denver win or San Diego loss, the team will be assured to open the playoffs at home.
It's only been eight months and eight days, but Peyton Manning has already impacted the Broncos franchise more than any quarterback in their history not named John Elway.
The team has quickly moved from lacking a viable NFL quarterback, in the second season of what Elway himself had called a three-year rebuilding process, to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Not that long ago, the Broncos roster was seen as having countless holes, requiring another offseason to shore up its offensive line and defense, and with unknown quantities at the offensive skill positions.
For the sixth week in a row, and riding a streak of five games during which they've scored at least 30 points and won by at least a touchdown in each, the Broncos reside at the crest of Brian Burke's efficiency rankings.
But the Denver offense has scuffled a bit in recent weeks, and this is reflected in their fall to third (from first) in offensive efficiency. However, they remain first in passing efficiency and tied for sixth while running the ball. Of course, the injury to Willis McGahee may strain that latter figure.
Their continued dominance on the defensive side of the game has the Broncos still second in efficiency (fourth versus the pass, eighth (tied) against the run), behind the opportunistic Bears.
Unsurprisingly, the decision caught the critical attention of Advanced NFL Stats writer Keith Goldner:
On another note, I cannot express enough disdain for John Fox’s decision to kick a field goal on 4th-and-Goal from the 1 in a 7-7 game, early in the second quarter. The numbers say to go for it unless you can’t convert at least 32% of the time. Peyton Manning can convert that well over 32%. The CBS commentator, though, went on a long rant about him making the correct decision to “take the points, because points usually win football games.” When is Chip Kelly coming to the NFL?
Well over? How about double? This season, on third or fourth down with one or two yards to gain, Peyton is 13/17 for 119 yards, three touchdowns, and a 134.6 rating. The Broncos have converted on 24 of 37 attempts - whether running or passing - from those same downs and distances, or 64.9%.
Another week, another Broncos win. And of course, the advanced metrics still count Denver among the league's elite teams.
You didn't expect anything else, did you?
Denver remains atop Brian Burke's efficiency rankings for the fifth straight week, and are even creating some distance between themselves and the other top teams. Burke's figures again have the Broncos ranked first in offensive efficiency (first in passing, sixth in rushing) and second on defense (fifth against the pass, 11th versus the run).
Jim Trotter posted a thought-provoking column today on kickoff deferrals:
Since the start of the 2010 season, flip-winning clubs that have opted to receive first are 185-209 (.470), versus 140-115 (.549) for those deferring."Six and a half-dozen," said Broncos coach John Fox. "You don't know how it's going to go."..."There are two principals that apply to coaching," Fox says. "One is, If it ain't broke don't fix it. Two is, Don't get caught up in the same old stuff."
Because the Broncos have scored touchdowns three of the last four games after receiving the second-half kickoff, look for Fox to stay with the same old stuff and not fix what ain't broke.
We've been heartened by John Fox's recent choices to defer possession until the second half kickoff in recent weeks, but it's just as disappointing to learn he's been doing so thanks to some sort of gut feeling.
No matter their focus, whether on sports, politics, or anything else, statistical models have always been targets of intense criticism.
The number crunchers can test their methods all they want, and even show their work as they did for their high-school geometry midterms, yet ultimately, the old-schoolers will say there's no match for experience and intuition.
But by now, even those data-allergic folks have to admit the 2012 Broncos are pretty good, right?
With the squad sitting at 1-2 after three weeks, Brian Burke's data said the Broncos were the third-most efficient team in the league. Three games later, following the historic comeback in San Diego that evened Denver's record at 3-3, they had reached the top of Burke's rankings.
Updated 5:33pm ET