Feb. 1, 2016
It would be a storybook finish, wouldn’t it?
The Broncos win the Super Bowl, vanquishing the demons of two seasons ago, and Peyton Manning is offered the opportunity few athletes are afforded: to walk out on top, leaving the game a champion like his boss and Colorado folk hero, John Elway.
Here’s why that dream is still not only possible, but probable.
Yes, Manning is the story, and all eyes will be on him from when he steps off the plane in California to when he returns to Denver.
But he won’t be the reason the Broncos win, because he is no longer the star.
That honor belongs to the defense, reminiscent of the scary “Orange Crush” defense that was before my time.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has his group confident, almost arrogant, in their abilities.
Denver had the number one overall defense in the NFL during the regular season, allowing 83 yards rushing per game (third best in the NFL) and 200 yards passing per game (best in the NFL).
They stifle opponents throughout the game and always seem to make a play in critical moments to move the needle toward a Broncos victory.
I mentioned that Manning is no longer the star. The success of the somewhat flawed 2013 Broncos team was predicated on the success of one man: Manning. As No. 18 went, so did Denver.
Not so anymore. That means that the stars and playmakers can come from everywhere, and that was true throughout the season and into the playoffs.
Running back C.J. Anderson beat the Patriots in the regular season snow.
Kicker Brandon McManus and his powerful right leg beat the Steelers in the playoffs, accounting for 15 of the team’s 23 points.
Tight end Owen Daniels helped win the AFC Championship with two ginormous touchdown catches in the 20-18 win.
Head coach Gary Kubiak is a playmaker in his own right, guiding the team through the Manning-Brock Osweiler drama and still winning despite the challenges.
When needed, Peyton has enough magic in the tank to make a play. But the winning touch is in capable hands, because so many players can be the difference.
Not many are giving this Broncos team a chance. VegasInsider.com had the Panthers as a five-and-a-half point favorite on Jan. 28.
It’s going to be tough, no doubt. The obvious MVP choice Cam Newton dabbed his way through the NFL schedule with little regard for, well, any team.
The Panthers have an it factor, they’ve got swag at levels I will probably never approach.
But so do the Denver Broncos. And swag, combined with talent, experience and motivation can combine Feb. 7 to make some serious “Orange Crush.”