Broncos Commence Postseason With Incredible Health; Await the Colts

Wednesday January 7 was the greatest day for the Denver Broncos in the past few month as the practice session, amid cold winds and falling snow, everyone on the active roster practiced.

This is no small feat as the Broncos, after being forced to endure an early bye week just after Week 4 in the 2014 regular season, have never been fully healthy since that point. Thus, the argument could easily be made that no one needed the bye in the first round of the playoffs more than the Broncos did.

As it is, the Broncos welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday afternoon for a chance to advance to the AFC Championship game. Additionally, should the Broncos win against the opportunistic Colts and if the Baltimore Ravens upset the New England Patriots Saturday evening, they would host the aforementioned title game.

Anyway, the Broncos come into the game with balance, something they have significantly cultivated since suffering a 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams November 16. If the Broncos should indeed win the Super Bowl February 1, one would have to think that the America’s Game documentary yet to be produced in question would cite that game as the bellwether moment in Denver’s season.

The Broncos have averaged 147.7 rushing yards per game in the last six games prior to Sunday’s playoff opener against Indianapolis and C.J. Anderson has run for 108 yards per game in that stretch. Andrew Perloff of Sports Illustrated, or “McLovin’,” on The Dan Patrick Show, has cited Anderson as being an integral component in the Broncos’ run toward a Lombardi trophy.

In any case, the one injury that media and Broncos coaches are not quite certain about is that to linebacker Brandon Marshall, while he told Denver FOX 31 sportscaster Michelle Tuckner Wednesday that he doesn’t feel comfortable saying his recovery is at 100 percent, but he feels “pretty decent” at the moment.

Otherwise, if you surmise that Peyton Manning’s sub-par play against Cincinnati was because of injury rather than age (and count me in the former’s camp), it’s reasonable to suggest that his thigh injury, sustained December 14 at San Diego, was more of the cause.

Anyway, it also seems that he had sufficient time to get healthy again so he should perform at a requisite level to other playoff performances. Speaking of which, Manning has played in 23 previous postseason games prior to Sunday.

In those games, he has completed 64.3 percent of his passes (572-889) for 37 touchdowns and 24 interceptions while throwing for 286.5 yards per game in the playoffs for a net total of 6,589 yards in those games. His record is only 11-12 in those games but is 2-2 in Denver in the playoffs.

Incidentally, while 38 of the 53 players on the Broncos’ active playoff roster have combined for 164 net games of playoff experience, not many of them have glowing statistics in the postseason. Perhaps this changes Sunday, it’s definitely something to look for.

Wideout Demaryius Thomas is perhaps the greatest Broncos’ previous postseason participant other than Manning as in 6 career playoff games, he has 41 catches for 640 yards and five touchdowns. Additionally, he averages 15.6 yards per reception and 106.7 yards per game in the playoffs.

While Emmanuel Sanders has been masterful for the Broncos all season, he is generally a postseason novice as in four postseason games, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has only 13 receptions for 172 yards, good for 13. 2 yards per catch and 43 yards per game.

Nevertheless, we know that he could easily exceed those numbers if the Broncos go on a deep postseason run which they seem poised to do.

Defensively, I see linebacker Von Miller coming out poised with something to prove as last season he missed the playoffs as well as the last 7 games of the regular season after tearing his ACL.

Both he and DeMarcus Ware (only four postseason games for Ware) are general playoff novices, as is Sanders, but I trust they shall acclimate to things accordingly. This will be the true test for the Broncos, adapting their intensity to an appropriate playoff level, something the Colts are already at. Incidentally, the 1977 Broncos’ Orange Crush defense will be honored prior to the game Sunday.

Speaking of the Colts, they are the only playoff team with a negative turnover ratio, -5, although they have the #1 passing game in the NFL, 305.9 yards per game, are #3 in offensive yards per game (406.6) and #6 in scoring offense (28.6 points per contest).

They are led by rising superstar signal-caller Andrew Luck, who, to me, transcends statistical probabilities in many instances. He is comparable to former Broncos’ star QB, and current star front office executive, John Elway, always seeming to be able to give his team a chance to win amid the most improbable circumstances.

In four career playoff games with the Colts, he is 2-2, having completed 58.6 percent of his passes, while throwing for 1,438 yards (359.5 yards per game) and 7 TD’s against 8 INT’s. Luck has been blessed by the presence of fellow 2012 draft pick of Indianapolis, wideout T.Y. Hilton who in his playoff career, has 31 receptions for 496 yards  and 2 TD’s, good for 16 yards per reception and 124 yards per game.

Reggie Wayne has also been a solid wideout for the Colts throughout his career in the postseason as in 19 career playoff games, he has 93 receptions for 1,254 yards and 9 TD’s, or 13.5 yards per catch and 66 yards per game in the playoffs.

While the Colts have not been known in the Luck era for running the ball tremendously well, tailback Dan Herron may perhaps be the Indianapolis response to C.J. Anderson as he first made a splash in the Week 12 23-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, amassing 96 all-purpose yards.

He was particularly effective in last Sunday’s 26-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round, posting 141 all-purpose yards against the Bengals, or 26.9 percent of his 524 all-purpose yards on the season.

The leading sacker for the Colts is rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome out of Ball State, who has 6.5 sacks on the season, while former Bronco, safety Mike Adams, has a team-leading 5 interceptions for Indianapolis.

On special teams, the Colts are blessed by the presence of arguably the best kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri as in 22 career playoff games with the Patriots and Colts, he has made 49 of his 58 career postseason field goals, connecting at an 84.5 percent clip.

Additionally, punter Pat McAfee is 7th in the NFL at punting average at 46.7 yards so the Colts’ special teams, when one adds return specialist Josh Cribbs to the mix (32 yards per return in six games), are more than formidable.

In closing, this is a game that the Broncos should win but when you play with an oblong ball, crazy things happen. The best bet for the Broncos to emerge victorious is to execute. If this happens, they should be in pretty good shape but we shall see.