If you’re a Broncos fan, you have to be thinking this is all too good to be true. A month ago today, Peyton Manning was sitting on the bench behind a struggling Brock Osweiler and Denver was trailing San Diego having lost two of its past three games. The Broncos seemed doomed to backing into the playoffs with an uncertain quarterback situation, but Manning put an end to such fears when he ended a seven-week absence by entering the game in the third quarter and leading a comeback victory.
Denver has ridden the resulting momentum and top playoff seed all the way to Sunday’s game against the Panthers, but that doesn’t mean the good times couldn’t end in a blink. These five things could cost the Broncos the Super Bowl:
1. PEYTON MANNING
Article continues below ...
It’s hard to imagine a five-time NFL MVP being a reason for concern instead of confidence, but that’s where the 39-year-old Manning is at these days. There’s no shame in injuries and age turning him into a game manager instead of a playmaker, but how long can Manning continue to avoid the turnovers that plagued him before he was benched in Week 9? He’s thrown 78 straight passes without an interception since returning, but Carolina’s defense led the league in picks and has the pass rush to force the issue. Manning ending a Hall of Fame career with a great performance would be a fantastic story, but the odds seem to be stacked against him.
If Manning can’t win this thing, the running game has to, right? The Broncos feature a strong one-two punch of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson – with Anderson being the hot back in the playoffs – but Carolina’s run defense is no slouch either, ranking fourth in yards allowed and seventh in yards per carry allowed. The going will be tough, but the Broncos don’t have a viable Plan B. Getting impatient if holes aren’t open early and putting too much pressure on Manning to pick up yards in third-and-long situations likely would be a fatal mistake.
4. CHANNELING THEIR LAST SUPER BOWL EXPERIENCE
It stands to reason the Broncos’ best chance at victory will be in a close, low-scoring game, and that means field goals will come into play. That could be a problem for a kicker who ranked 17th in the league by making just 85.7 percent of his kicks. Denver must hope it is getting the McManus who is 7-for-7 in the playoffs and not the one who missed a field goal in four consecutive games in which he attempted one in late November and early December. He has plenty of leg but is shaky from beyond 40 yards.
Last time around, the Broncos didn’t start out too well in the Super Bowl.