How Should the Beat Up Denver Broncos Approach Next Week’s Game


Dec 14, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) and Denver Broncos strong safety David Bruton (30) celebrate beating the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos are the AFC West Champions but they are also a beat up football team. The good news is because they have already won the division, they can afford to be extremely cautious with those players who are dealing with injuries.

The media and others are already hyping next Monday Night’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals as a pivotal game, one that could decide the second seed in the AFC. Don’t buy into it, it’s simply not true.

It’s a huge game for the Bengals who are fighting to win the AFC North but the Broncos only need to win one of their final two in order to clinch a first-round bye. The Broncos host the Oakland Raiders in the last week of the season and barring something unforeseen, they are going to win that game.

If the Bengals win out, including a win over the Broncos, they would finish the season at 11-4-1. The Broncos would finish at 12-4 with a loss to the Bengals and a win over the Raiders. In that scenario, the Broncos would finish ahead of the Bengals despite losing to them and having the same number of losses. 12-4 represents a higher winning percentage than 11-4-1 and that would give the Broncos the number two seed.

So what does all of that mean going into next Monday’s game? It means the Broncos have options if they choose to use them. The team reported on Monday that linebacker Danny Trevathan is out for the season with a knee injury and fellow linebacker Brandon Marshall is out 1-2 weeks with a mid-foot sprain.

Throw in some other minor injuries to various players and the Broncos could use some time to heal before the playoffs start. It would be a shock if we saw Marshall before the playoffs. Assuming the Broncos do earn a first-round bye, they could give Marshall almost a full month to heal.

I’m not saying the Broncos should treat the game versus the Bengals as a preseason game but if there’s any doubt about any player, then they should not play next Monday. Yes, that includes quarterback Peyton Manning. Do I expect Manning to be fine and play next week, yes but the Broncos should not rush him back if that thigh is not 100%.

Now here’s the rub with that approach. Technically the Broncos are still in the running for the number one seed in the AFC and common sense says they need to keep winning in case the New England Patriots are upset by either the New York Jets this week or by the Buffalo Bills the following week. The chances of the Patriots losing one of those games are slim to none and slim is packed and ready to go.

The Broncos have the advantage of playing on Monday night next week so they will know the result of the Patriots game going into their game. If, by some miracle, the Jets upset the Patriots then obviously the Broncos would do everything in their power to beat the Bengals.

The real problem is if the Patriots beat the Jets. The Broncos would still be alive for the number one seed but they would obviously not know anything for sure until the following week. The odds of the Bills beating the Patriots in New England are not great but the Bills do have a great defense and just knocked off the Green Bay Packers. If the Bills are playing for a potential playoff spot, then maybe it’s a tricky game for the Patriots.

So what do the Broncos do versus the Bengals? The answer is they do both. They play everyone who is healthy enough to play and they keep winning to keep the pressure on the Patriots to earn the top seed. However if a player, even a key one is beat up or needs some time off, then that player should not play.

It’s a complicated situation; the Broncos still have an outside shot at the number one seed but they also need to think about going into the playoffs as healthy as possible. The good news is that, regardless of the outcome versus the Bengals, the Broncos are going to get a bye and play at least one playoff game at home.