The Lard

A comprehensive daily examination of NFL happenings and analysis

The Daily Lard 1-2-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Believe it or not, your Denver Broncos are the 2011 AFC West Champions and the AFC's fourth seed; they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers (the fifth seed) in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday at 4:30PM ET on CBS; Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will again be excusing every Tim Tebow misstep calling the game.

As for how they got there, the Broncos may have redefined the term "backing into the playoffs" as they lost a 7-3 stinker to the Chiefs which was characterized by the same brand of inept offensive Foxball they've played for most of the past eleven weeks. It was the team's third straight loss and included two more turnovers by Tim Tebow, but San Diego's 38-26 victory over Oakland enabled the Broncos to take the division title via common opponents tiebreaker over both the Raiders and Chargers, who also finished at 8-8.

On a day when the scoreboards at SAFaMH did not display the score of the Oakland/San Diego game, the Broncos and Tebow were playing what they knew to be a must-win game, and what they came up with amounted to three gifted points (after taking over on the KC 20 following a muffed punt by Javier Arenas) and 266 yards of offense on 71 plays. On 11 of its 12 possessions, Denver failed to move the ball more than 36 yards, and the one time they did so (a 70-yard march to start off the second quarter), yet another fumble by Tebow (his 13th of the season) during a rare would-be third-down conversion snuffed out what was an almost guaranteed three points and perhaps even seven.

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The Daily Lard 1-1-12

Happy New Year, Broncos fans! 

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The Daily Lard 12-31-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Chris Benson previews tomorrow's game for PFF, and he's expecting the Broncos to utilize a more conventional rushing attack since KC will presumably will be better prepared for the read option than they were last time. On defense, Benson figures that although Von Miller's struggles since he injured his thumb have been well chronicled, he should impact the game matching up against Barry Richardson - the worst right tackle in the game according to PFF's grading.

For PFF's latest Scramble column, Benson writes that the turning point for Denver's season may have been Chris Harris' interception of Carson Palmer and subsequent 60-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. It was a remarkable sequence of events, one that should not be underestimated. I think people look back at the 38-24 final score and recall the game as a thumping by Denver, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The first half was all Oakland, and the Broncos running game didn't really dominate until that McGahee run to end the third quarter. Denver was 2-5 at that point, and here we are eight weeks later and they've got a chance to win the division tomorrow. Incredible.

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The Daily Lard 12-30-11

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Bucky Brooks dug into the film of Denver's last three games, and within them he sees a blueprint for stopping Tim Tebow and the Broncos offense. He says that in response to Denver's success running against sub packages, both the Bears and Bills decided not to allow the Broncos to dictate personnel. A Jets coach raised this point with Brooks, and the numbers appear to support the strategy - even more so than Brooks cites. Against the Jets, Bears and Bills, the Broncos averaged 127.3 rushing yards per game, while in the other seven games since Tebow took over, Denver ran for a staggering 217.9 yards per game. Of course, the last time these two teams faced off, Denver ripped off 244 rushing yards against Romeo Crennel's defense, and two weeks ago the Broncos ran for 252 against Bill Belichick's guys.

As for the passing game, Brooks points to teams' use of man coverage on Denver's wideouts (and a heavy reliance upon Cover-1), with the Bills focusing on locking up Tebow's primary read, and he says teams are relying upon a four-man rush to contain Tim within the pocket, rather than blitzing and risking an open lane for Tebow to escape through. The question, of course, is whether Tim will be able to start beating this one-on-one coverage with his arm, and whether the Broncos will have some viable wrinkles to get the running game going against what may be a solid game plan for stopping them.

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The Daily Lard 12-29-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Andy Benoit raises an interesting point in his preview of Sunday's game, in that the simple matter of a win or loss could determine whether the Bronco decide to go all-in on building around Tim Tebow for 2012. Could it really be that simple? What if Tebow plays great but the team loses and misses the playoffs, or what if he continues to be off the mark with his passing yet the team wins and takes the division title? Will John Elway & Co be afforded the leeway to evaluate Tim for what he is, or will the decision be driven solely by team results?

As for the game, Benoit figures the Chiefs to better defend the Broncos' running game, and that their excellent group of corners should allow KC to man up on Denver's receivers, as Buffalo did last week. He thinks the Chiefs will try to utilize short drops in the passing game to help weaken the impact of Denver's pass rush, specifically Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. To counter, Benoit says the Broncos should go with tight man coverage from Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman agains Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin.

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The Daily Lard 12-27-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! According to Nick Canepa, the Chargers will fire Norv Turner at some point next week, and there's a good chance that A.J. Smith will be joining him. For his two cents, Canepa thinks firing Smith would be a mistake, and he says not only that rumors of Bill Cowher already having interviewed for Turner's gig are untrue, but that San Diego owner Dean Spanos is unlikely to hire one person to handle both the GM and head coaching duties - something Cowher is said to be seeking.

If Smith retains the GM gig, Canepa is hearing that Jeff Fisher could be interested in joining the Chargers, but he says Smith's closeness to Jon Gruden makes Chucky the best fit for the job, if not the most likely successor to Turner. Meanwhile, Kevin Acee writes that should Spanos drop the axe on Smith, the Rams will pounce and hire the egomaniacal pair of A.J. and Chucky. This would apparently send current Rams HC Steve Spagnuolo back to Philly as their DC, and of course it also would free up Josh McDaniels (this part is my speculation) to potentially be reunited with Scott Pioli in KC as either his head coach or handpicked OC - perhaps under Romeo Crennel.

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The Daily Lard 12-26-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The Packers locked up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs last night with a 35-21 victory over the Bears. Aaron Rodgers notched the first five TD pass game of his career, and the Bears' fifth straight loss polishes off their once promising playoff chances.

The elimination of Chicago also clinched a playoff spot for the Falcons, who need to beat the Saints tonight to remain in the running for the NFC South title. The final NFC playoff spot comes down to Cowboys at Giants Sunday night for the NFC East title - winner takes the division, loser is out.

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The Daily Lard 12-25-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The AFC West is set up for a wild finish next Sunday afternoon, as the Broncos host the Chiefs and the Raiders face the Chargers in Oakland. Denver's only path to the playoffs is via the division title, but they have three ways of claiming it: 1) beat KC; 2) tie KC, plus Oakland ties or loses to SD; 3) lose to KC, plus Oakland loses to SD. As for the AFC's final wild card spot, Oakland can nab it with a victory and some help, but Denver has no shot at it due to victories yesterday by Cincinnati (23-16 over the Cards) and Tennessee (23-17 over Jacksonville).

How did we get to this point? Well, the Broncos came up pretty small yesterday, especially the offense and special teams, which combined to allow 21 points to the defense's 19 in a 40-14 loss to Buffalo. The 21 came via a punt return TD by Leodis McKelvin and two fourth quarter pick-sixes by Tim Tebow, although one of those could be changed to a fumble. As for the defense, they struggled to keep the Bills outside the 20 but stiffened up once allowing them in (Buffalo was 1-6 in the red zone).

The Broncos lost the turnover battle (0-4) for the third straight week and have given the ball up nine times over that stretch (seven of them by Tebow). They also lost Chris Harris to a pinched nerve, Quinton Carter to a severe bruise on his lower back, and Brian Dawkins to a reaggravation of his neck injury which is feared could end his playing career.

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The Daily Lard 12-24-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Pretty exciting day today, as Denver has a chance to clinch the AFC West today with a victory over the Bills combined with a loss or tie by the Raiders in Kansas City. It would mark the team's first division title since the 2005 season. The Broncos can also clinch at least a wild card with a win in Buffalo combined with losses by the Jets (Giants), Bengals (Cardinals) and Titans (Jaguars), all of whom are playing at home today and kicking off early.

The Raiders will be without several key players who did not practice all week - RB Darren McFadden, S Michael Huff, WR Jacoby Ford and DT John Henderson.

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The Daily Lard 12-23-11

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Last night's game had a rather interesting ending with plenty of implications, as Colts QB Dan Orlovsky led a 12-play, 78-yard drive to defeat the Texans 19-16. For Houston, the loss is a severe blow to their chances at nabbing a playoff bye and one of the top seeds; instead they're likely to end up with the #3 seed. Should the Broncos take the AFC West and the #4 seed, they would host the #5 seed in the first round, which will be either PIttsburgh or Baltimore, and unless Houston is knocked out by the #6 seed, Denver would have to go to Foxborough if they can pull off a first-round upset.

On the other end of things, the victory for the Colts is their second straight, and it means their stranglehold on the first-overall pick and chance to draft Andrew Luck is gone - Indy is now tied in the win column with the Rams and Vikings, and the Colts face their division rival Jaguars to close out their season. Due to strength of schedule, it appears the Colts would still get the #1 pick if they finish tied for the worst record with the Rams and/or Vikings. So the Colts/Jags matchup could be the determinant of whether Jacksonville has to face Andrew Luck twice annually for potentially the next 10 or 15 years. I'm not sure the Jags really want to win that game...

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