Broncos, Manning atop AFC Lard

GOOD MORNING, Broncos fans! For the sixth time in their history ('77, '87, '89, '96, '98), YOUR Denver Broncos have attained the AFC's top seed, and for the tenth time ('78, '84, '86, '87, '89, '91, '96, '98, '05), they will have a week off* before entering the playoff fray.

Denver (13-3) will host one of Baltimore, Indianapolis, or Cincinnati on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:30pm ET, with tickets available today at noon MST for neighbors of the Rockies.

They achieved this lofty status with a good deal of help from Peyton Manning's old team, and by summarily dispatching with this year's NFL doormats in a 38-3 (GamebookANS box score) shellacking of the Chiefs (2-14).

After stumbling to the NFL's eighth worst points differential (-81) in 2011, these Broncos have pummeled their opponents to the tune of a plus-192 margin, which is the fourth largest turnaround in NFL history.

For this, they have Peyton, his old team (for having cut that meat!), and John Elway - for convincing Manning to join his franchise, and for crafting a Super Bowl favorite out of a 4-12 team in just two years' time.

Manning has led his new team to eleven straight wins - all by at least seven points - and if he's able to get them to fourteen, he'll have brought the franchise its third Lombardi trophy, and done so in his hometown of New Orleans.

Such an achievement would make indelible and profound his mark on the Denver Broncos, but whether that happens or not, Peyton has already rewritten the organization's record book.

Manning's 37 touchdown passes, 6.4% TD rate, 400 completions, 68.6% completion rate, 4,659 yards, 105.8 quarterback rating, and nine 300-yard games are all new Denver standards. Each is an eye-popping figure one might tend to describe as unlikely ever to fall, but for the reasonable expectation that Peyton will be a Bronco in 2013.

What else is there to say at this point, but Thank You, Peyton Manning. And, Thank You, John Elway.

* The wild card, and thus the bye week, was first instituted in 1978; so although Denver was the AFC's top seed in 1977, there was no week off prior to their run to SB 12.

Broncos

Videos: Highlights from BTV and NFLN, plus John Fox's postgame speech; Fox, Peyton Manning, and several others speak after the game; here are their quotes transcribed.

Ronnie Hillman rode the bench after his awful fumble, for which Peyton is lobbying to get an assisted tackle, and during which Orlando Franklin suffered a leg injury, only to return shortly thereafter.

As summed up perfectly by Mike Silver, there's poetry in Peyton helping Champ Bailey (who was brought to Denver in response to Manning's 2003 playoff drubbing of the Broncos) see his team return to dominance, and of course, in the Colts helping the Broncos gain the number-one seed.

Manning aside, the stars of the game were Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for their ridiculous TD catches; what's scariest about the duo is they're still improving, and figure to be even better next year.

Don't forget the defense, for holding Kansas City to just 119 net yards and eight first downs, and for finishing second in the league in total yards allowed - the highest in franchise history.

As TJ noted last night, the biggest question mark for the Broncos is whether their defensive edges will hold up against the run.

It's kind of hard to argue that any quarterback has ever been better than Peyton, isn't it? Mark Kiszla agrees with Champ that (of course) this team is better than the 2005 Broncos.

AFCW

Terrelle Pryor led the Raiders (4-12) to two late touchdowns, but the Chargers (7-9) held on for a 24-21 victory in Norv Turner's final game as San Diego's head coach.

Sam Mellinger says it's time to conclude the tenures of both Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel, but Pioli still has a chance to stick around.

Jimmy Raye is expected to replace A.J. Smith as the Chargers GM, but it remains to be seen who takes over for Norv.

Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen are figured to rightfully keep their jobs and continue rebuilding the Raiders, although they won't have a second- or fifth-round pick to help them. Oakland will likely fire OC Greg Knapp.

Kansas City will pick first in April, Oakland picks third (with Jacksonville in between), while San Diego drops to the eleventh choice for having beaten the Raiders.

Playoffs

New England (12-4) will be the AFC's two seed after they stifled the Dolphins (7-9) in a 28-0 whitewashing. Come the divisional round, they will host the highest seed to emerge out of Houston, Baltimore, and Indy, and should both teams take care of business, the Patriots will come to Denver for Manning v. Brady, Fourteenth Installment.

Cincy (10-6) beat Baltimore (10-6) in a 23-17 playoff tuneup featuring loads of backup action from both teams.

Over in the NFC, Mike Smith chose not to rest his starters, and the top-seeded Falcons (13-3) were not only beaten, 22-17 by the Bucs (7-9), but also beaten up, as Matt Ryan took several crunching blows, and defensive stars John Abraham and Dunta Robinson suffered injuries.

The Niners (11-4-1) repeated as NFCW champs with a 27-13 win over Arizona (5-11) and will join Atlanta in spectating during the wild card round.

Green Bay (11-5) could have gained a bye for themselves with a win over the Vikings (10-6), but they instead allowed Adrian Peterson to come within nine yards of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record in a game that featured another one of those mind-numbingly stupid challenge flag-prompted penalties (despite Jordy Nelson's best efforts). Minnesota emerged with a 37-34 win that sets up a Saturday night rematch between the two teams in Green Bay.

Washington (10-6) will host the other wild card game, after they picked off a derptastic Tony Romo three times in a 28-18 victory against the visiting Cowboys (8-8). Rookie Alfred Morris ran for 200 yards and three scores.

Their guests will be the Seahawks (11-5), who needed a late touchdown run by Russell Wilson to edge the Rams (7-8-1) by a 20-13 margin.

News

Not-Black Monday will be full of coaching changes, including the looming firing of Andy Reid in Philadelphia.

Cardinals GM Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt may also be on the chopping block, and there will definitely be some major changes for the LOLJets.

Analysis

Here are all 81 touchdowns scored during yesterday's afternoon games, key injuries that could impact the playoffs, and advanced metrics from Brian Burke.

Mike Tanier, Matt Bowen, Bill BarnwellWill Brinson (Demaryius TD GIF), the Football OutsidersClark Judge, Don Banks, Peter King, and Jason Cole wrap up the day's action.

Doug FarrarJeffri Chadiha (AFC), John Clayton (NFC), Jarrett Bell, and Alex Marvez look ahead to the playoffs.

Andy Benoit's 2012 All-Pro team includes Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Von Miller, and Champ Bailey, and remember all those statistical hacks (here's looking at you, Football Outsiders and K.C. Joyner) who said Champ was among the league's most overrated players? The peerless Benoit calls Manning his CPOY and MVP.

While ranking his top ten running back seasons of all time, Joe Posnanski gives the greatness of Terrell Davis its proper due.

Updates: 10:28am ET - Peter King, Bill Barnwell, Football Outsiders added

Doug is IAOFM’s resident newsman and spelling czar. Follow him on Twitter @IAOFM

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