Good Morning, Broncos fans! For most of the season, Houston (12-3) has sported the best record in the AFC. Only three weeks ago, they were 11-1 and appeared to have an ironclad grip on the conference's top seed, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But with their stunningly futile 23-6 home loss to Minnesota (9-6), the Texans have now dropped two of three, and fallen into a tie with YOUR Denver Broncos (12-3), who strolled past the Browns (5-10) in a 34-12 cinch of a win, their tenth consecutive victory (Gamebook, ANS box score).
Of course, Kubes & Co. own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Broncos, thanks to their Week 3 win at SAF@MH. Therefore, Denver will need the host Colts to knock off the Texans next week, and then take care of their own business at home against the Chiefs, in order to snatch away the number-one seed.
Equally unlikely to an Indy victory would be a Miami win at New England next Sunday, which alone would ensure a bye for Denver.
The Texans play early on Sunday, but Patriots/Dolphins has been moved to 4:25pm ET, so as not to potentially render the outcome of Denver's game moot.
No matter what happens with Houston, the Broncos will need to beat the Chiefs, but that shouldn't be much of a problem, given the way Peyton Manning has been playing.
Manning notched his eighth three-touchdown game of the season, extending his franchise record; topped 300 yards for the eighth time, tying him with Jay Cutler (2008) among Broncos, and further distanced himself from John Elway and Jake Plummer (27) for most touchdown passes in a season, with 34. He's now seven completions and 171 yards shy of Cutler's team records, and he's in line to establish a new Denver standard for QB rating (his 103.7 currently edges Brian Griese's 102.9 mark from 2000).
For Peyton, that's the second-most touchdowns he's thrown in a season, behind only his then-NFL record 49-score season of 2004. Manning has had 72 career games with at least three touchdown passes, which ties Brett Favre for most all-time, but he matched Favre in 79 fewer career games. He currently leads all NFL quarterbacks in Net Yards per Attempt (7.34) and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (7.66).
Demaryius Thomas added his sixth 100-yard game, along with his ninth touchdown catch, while Eric Decker, who notched two scores of his own, now has 11 touchdowns, and is 12 yards shy of joining Thomas as a 1,000-yard receiver.
Von Miller tallied 1.5 sacks, giving him 17.5 on the season, and surpassing Elvis Dumervil (17 in 2009) for the most in Denver history; Elvis had two of his own, to give him 11 on the season. Their 28.5 combined sacks are the most ever by a Denver duo, by far (Simon Fletcher, Mike Croel - 23.5 in 1991), and Doom shows no jealousy toward the younger, more dominant star.
Look for more records to fall next week, and for the Broncos to nail down the two-seed and a first-round bye.
Tracy Porter, who would have no health luck at all were it not for bad luck, suffered a concussion, while Trindon Holliday sprained an ankle. Manning wore a glove on his throwing hand for part of the second half as preparation for potentially doing so in the playoffs; Fox gave the players off today and tomorrow.
Naturally, Peyton doesn't think he's playing on the same level as he did at his peak, and has no interest in talking MVP awards, while his teammates understand nothing is as important as keeping their quarterback upright.
At ten games, this matches the Broncos' second-longest winning streak in team history; during the streak, they've held opponents below 100 rushing yards nine times.
You can wear the same Fudd-like hat as Eric Decker for only $44.
New England (11-4) remains a game behind Denver after hanging on for a 23-16 win over the Jaguars (2-13), who failed to understand that kicking field goals and punting on 4th-and-1 from midfield isn't how you defeat the Patriots.
Baltimore (10-5) put a 33-14 whipping on the Giants (8-7) and clinched the AFCN for the second straight season. The Ravens figure to be the AFC's fourth seed and host the Colts (10-5), who squeaked by the Chiefs (2-13) with a 20-13 victory that required a late touchdown for the difference.
Cincinnati (9-6) clinched the AFC's sixth seed and simultaneously knocked out the Steelers (7-8) by beating them 13-10 on a last-second field goal by Josh Brown.
Reggie Bush ran for one score and caught two more as the Dolphins (7-8) coasted over the Bills (5-10) by a 24-10 score.
A Chiefs loss at Denver on Sunday will clinch for them the top overall pick in the 2013 Draft; an earlier Jaguars win over the Titans would do the same.
The Chargers (6-9) sacked Greg McElroy 11 times and picked him off once in a 27-17 win over the LOLJets (6-9), who got their longest Wildcat pass of the year - a 42-yarder - in the losing effort. But that throw did not come out of the left hand of their punt protector, who sulked his way out of the package when he was passed over for the starting quarterback job. In classic LOLJets fashion, they listed Buttfumble and the Ultimate Teammate™ as co-number-two quarterbacks yesterday.
So much for doing whatever's asked for the benefit of the squad, being a great teammate, and constantly oozing intangibles. The most zealous of Zombies will probably never see through Tebow's manufactured visage, but this latest development has to release at least a few folks from his spell.
Chargers third-round safety Brandon Taylor tore an ACL yesterday and will aim to get back in time for the 2013 season.
Carolina (6-9) beat up Carson Palmer and the Raiders (4-11) in a 17-6 game that saw Oakland's starting QB knocked out in the first quarter with an injury to his ribs.
As reported by Bloomberg, the city of Oakland spends $17.3M annually to stage Raiders and Athletics games, all the while cutting its police force and watching its major crime numbers rise. Still think it's a good thing for tax dollars to subsidize pro sports teams and their welfare queen owners?
Green Bay (11-4) annihilated Tennessee (5-10) in a 55-7 laugher that has them in the driver's seat for the second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. If the Packers fail to win at Minnesota next week, they'll likely end up hosting the Vikings in the Wild Card round.
Seattle (10-5) has now scored 150 points in its last three games, after their playoff-clinching 42-13 decimation of San Francisco (10-4-1). Russell Wilson threw four TD passes, Marshawn Lynch caught one and ran for another, and Richard Sherman returned a blocked field goal 90 yards, as the Seahawks locked up what should be the NFC's fifth seed.
Washington (9-6) held on for a 27-20 win over Philly (4-11), and can clinch the NFCE with a win next Sunday night over Dallas (8-7), who fell 34-31 in overtime to New Orleans (7-8) after Tony Romo had thrown two late touchdown passes to pull the Cowboys out of a 31-17 deficit. If Dallas can win at Washington, they'll instead be the NFCE champs.
The division title is the only path to the playoffs for the Cowboys, while Washington, Chicago, Minnesota, and the Giants all have a chance for the sixth seed.
Chicago (9-6) pulled ahead of the Cowboys and Giants with a 28-13 win over the Cardinals (5-10), and can gain the final NFC spot with a win over Detroit and a Green Bay win over Minnesota.
St. Louis (7-7-1) picked off Josh Freeman four times in a 28-13 win over Tampa Bay (6-9); the Bucs QB also threw four interceptions last week against New Orleans.
Many thanks to Chase Stuart for guiding us through the current playoff scenarios.
Update: 1:22pm ET - Marshawn Lynch caught one TD and ran for another; he didn't run for two as was originally written.