The Denver Broncos clinched the number one seed in the AFC with their 11th consecutive win, and all 11 wins have been by at least seven points.
The 2012 Broncos thus joined the 2005 Indianapolis Colts (13 straight) and the 1942 Chicago Bears (also 11) as the only teams to win at least 11 games in a row by a margin of seven points or more in a single season.
It has been and remains a remarkable, special season for the Broncos and our legions of fans.
I would say magical, but that was last year. When a team is playing like the Broncos, there is no magic involved, just focus, preparation, talent and real hard work.
And, of course, Peyton Manning.
But he is not the whole story here.
Peyton Manning this year set Broncos franchise records with 400 completions, 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns, a 68.6 completion percentage and a 105.9 passer rating. While all Bronco records, those statistics represent the second-highest figures of Manning’s career. His 2012 figure of 8.0 yards per attempt is also third-best in his career.
But to paraphrase what the great Paul Harvey used to say, there is the rest of the story, and a lot of that has to do with defense.
Under Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio the Broncos this year ranked second in NFL total defense, the highest finish in team history, including the Orange Crush years under Joe Collier.
Until 2012 Denver had never ranked higher than third in total defense, that coming in 1989.
Defense is a big part of having a chance in the playoffs, and five of the top seven defenses this year are in the postseason—Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Cincinnati and Houston all are there, while Indianapolis is the only team in the bottom seven defensively (the Colts rank 27th ) that made the playoffs.
Denver’s average finish defensively was 22nd over the previous four seasons, so this year’s team made gigantic strides on that side of the ball.
The cliché about defense winning championships is a cliché because it is so often true.
That unit is also a big reason why the 2012 Broncos won 13 games by at least seven points, in that this was a combination of Peyton Manning lighting up the Broncos’ side of the scoreboard while the defense dimmed the lights on the opponents’ panel.
Indeed, the Broncos scored at least 30 points 11 times this year, most in team history and tied for the fourth-most in NFL history behind the 2007 and 2011 Patriots and the 1999 Rams, with each of those teams making the Super Bowl.
The offense-defense combination is also behind a plus-192 point differential for the Broncos this year, tied with the 1998 Broncos for the most in club history. In the Super Bowl era, 35 teams had a point differential of at least a plus-190 during the regular season, with 17 of them making the Super Bowl and 10 winning it. So it creates good odds, but not certainty.
There is no such thing as certainty in the NFL playoffs. You must combine your talent with focus and preparation, and practice real hard.
All you can ask is a fighting chance, but the teams themselves determine their perceived playoff odds based on how they played in the regular season. And that balance between offense and defense, combined with an excellent kicking game, creates a fighting chance, playing at home before fans who have sold out the stadium for 43 years, as the Broncos head into postseason play.