USA TODAY Sports
To prep for Sunday's Chiefs-Broncos game, I spoke with John Bena from Mile HIgh Report about how long Peyton Manning will be around, when the Broncos defense became elite and whether John Fox plans to rest his starters on Sunday.
1. Looking back at right after Manning signed, did you think this would be the outcome? Was an AFC West title the expectation all along?
While I feel what John Elway set out to do has been accomplished, I'd say that most Broncos fans expected MORE from Manning and the Broncos than just an AFC West title. For me it was a move to turn around a franchise that was dangerously close to becoming completely insignificant. You could see the coaching carrousel beginning to turn. The Broncos had so much turnover that they were having a hard time attracting free agents. Denver was no longer a destination since the team was losing and the Mike Shanahan-era of over-spending was gone. The Tim Tebow mirage could have been catastrophic for the Broncos had Elway not rescued the franchise.
With Manning, the Broncos are not only winning, but with Elway running the show, a respected football man like John Fox as head coach, and Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos are now respected again. Anything else in 2012 is icing on the cake.
2. How long can Manning realistically play? How long do you expect him to?
I think he'll play as long as he can. In my opinion he can go 4 more years, especially if the Broncos continue to protect him as well as they have this season. Winning is important, of course, and the Broncos are very young at key positions - running back, receiver and most of the offensive line is young. The defense is only going to get better, too, and that means the Broncos could be right at the beginning of something pretty special.
3. When and how did the Broncos defense become a top five unit? Where do they excel?
I think we saw in 2011 what the defense was capable of. The Tim Tebow circus meant the defense didn't get nearly the credit they deserved. You look at the blueprint on how to build a defense and the Broncos have many of the pieces. Thy have an elite corner in Champ Bailey. They have two elite pass rushers - Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller - and while there are no big names along the line, those guys are active and physical. Add a quarterback like Peyton Manning - who is going to give you a lead - and the Broncos are able to dictate to opposing offenses what they can do. It's the perfect recipe.
4. Do the Broncos plan to rest starters? If you were John Fox, would you?
No and no. The Broncos need a win(The Patriots play at the same time on Sunday) in order to clinch the #2 seed and that all-important BYE. With Houston struggling, the Broncos can also earn the #1 seed with a win and a Texans loss. There's too much to play for and the Broncos simply can't afford to sit anyone. That said, even if it was wrapped up, I think it is important to stay game ready. If a team rested it's starters in Week 17, then had a BYE, then played a playoff game, it would bee THREE WEEKS between games. That's way too long, especially when playing teams that have been in playoff mode that entire time.
5. Which team concerns you the most in the AFC?
For me it's New England. While the Texans are scary, until Matt Schaub does it in the playoffs I go with the quarterbacks. Tom Brady can go any where at any time. There really isn't a home-field advantage when it comes to playing guys like Manning or Brady and their presence settles the entire locker room down. Having that game in Denver, however, where Brady hasn't had much success, is extremely important!