The Denver Broncos, who have become national darlings (Public Policy Polling found in early January they obtained 14 percent of the popular vote as America’s favorite team), also seem to have found themselves at the most opportune time.
The 26-16 pasting of the New England Patriots in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game was greatly appreciated by fans, but not surprising to observers who have introspectively watched this team’s improvement throughout the season.
Since the disappointing Week 15 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday Night Football, the Broncos’ defense has only surrendered 15 points and 268.5 yards per game and Terrance Knighton has emerged as a highly disruptive force on the defensive line.
Against New England, Knighton had a crucial sack on a 4th and 2 situation when the Patriots found themselves down 23-10 in the 4th Quarter which enabled the Broncos to, in effect, seal the game with a 54-yard field goal by Matt Prater.
The much-maligned defensive coordinator of the Broncos, Jack Del Rio, may have had his greatest hour in Denver, as coming into this game he was 0-8 all-time against Tom Brady but he got the best of him this time around.
New England’s offense had averaged 384.5 yards during the regular season and posted 419 yards against Indianapolis in the divisional round but Del Rio’s squad surrendered only 320 yards to the Patriots, many of which came in garbage time.
Thus, if the weather at the Super Bowl should affect the Broncos’ prolific passing game, there are other ways to get the job done.
The running game has been sufficient in the playoffs thus far as Denver is averaging 120 yards in the postseason on the ground, a 3-yard increase from the regular season. Therefore, complimentary football is increasingly becoming their calling card as the season progresses.
As I watched the NFC Championship game Sunday, it seemed as if the Broncos were more complete than both Seattle and San Francisco and when you can supplement a legendary signal-caller like Peyton Manning, the sky is the limit.
Speaking of Manning, who tossed for 400 yards and two scores Sunday, he became only the third signal-caller to reach the 400-yard threshold in a conference championship game, joining Daryle Lamonica for Oakland in 1968 (401 yards) and Dan Marino of Miami in 1984 (421 yards).
All that remains toward a potential revamping of Manning’s legacy is a stumbling block known as the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle is only averaging 16 points per game and the bend but don’t break methodology has worked as this comes despite giving up 358.5 yards per contest in the postseason. Turnover ratio has also helped as they have forced four turnovers and only surrendered one, a crucial component for postseason success.
Incidentally, Seattle was the top team in the NFL in turnover ratio in the regular season, amassing a +20 differential.
Russell Wilson, a winner in his first NFC championship game as a signal-caller, has only thrown for 318 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs, while completing 58 percent of his passes, bolstered by a strong running game.
Tailback Marshawn Lynch has been as solid as ever in the postseason, averaging 124.5 yards per game and running for three scores, causing the denizens of Century Link Field to shower the star with Skittles, his favorite candy.
All that remains is a bunch of hype but many pundits believe this to be the best possible matchup that could have occurred so it may be that NFL fans are the biggest winners.