It would have been the classic storybook ending to a great season. But we all know that the editor eventually has the final say.
Here were the Denver Broncos, armed with one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history heading into the NFL playoffs as the AFC's number-one seed. And to make matters even better, John Fox's team was riding an 11-game winning streak entering the game. But it wasn't meant to be as the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens pulled off a shocker in the Mile High City.
Don't cry too hard for the Broncos. Led by 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year in Peyton Manning, this club once again figures to be in the NFL title hunt.
Hence, the Denver Broncos will make it three straight trips to the playoffs…
If: Manning has another productive year. After missing a season due to numerous neck surgeries, the former Indianapolis Colts superstar set a new Broncos' franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (37). It was also Manning's highest total since throwing 49 touchdown passes in 2004, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. And what will the addition of prolific wide receiver Wes Welker add to the attack?
And: Running back Willis McGahee is once again healthy and the Denver running game picks up where it left off late last season. After totaling 100-plus yards rushing in just four of their first 12 games in 2012, Fox's club hit the century mark on the ground in each of their last four regular season contests. Denver finished fourth in the league last season in total yards in 2012 but was in the middle of the pack (16th) when it came to running the football.
But: If the Denver defense looks like the unit that appeared helpless against the Ravens' offense in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, repeating as division champions is far from a certainty. After finishing second in the league in the league in terms of fewest yards allowed, ranking third in NFL against both the run and the pass, Baltimore rolled up 479 yards of total offense in the double-overtime win. After tying for the league lead with 52 sacks a year ago, the Ravens' pass rush got to Joe Flacco just once in the postseason setback.
So what do you think? The Broncos will attempt to do something they've never done before and that's win a third straight AFC West title. But will the rest of the division continue to struggle or are one of the other three teams capable of keeping Denver out of the playoffs?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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