A win today against Tampa Bay will give the Denver Broncos a second straight AFC West title. Following a 24-23 loss against Atlanta, the Bucs enter play in a three way tie with Minnesota and Seattle at 6-5 for the final NFC playoff berth. While the Broncos lead their division by four games and are merely positioning themselves for the postseason, Tampa needs wins and will have to continue to outscore their opponents if the playoffs are to be in their future.
The Buccaneers fell a point short last Sunday snapping a four game winning streak. With the worst pass defense in the league, the onus continues to be on the Tampa offense. During the four game spurt, the Bucs averaged just under 35 point a game. Tampa QB Josh Freeman tossed 10 touchdowns during the winning run. Sunday was the first time this season Freeman failed to throw a touchdown. The Bucs are 2-7 during Freeman's career when he does not to throw for a score.
Denver has won six straight after starting the season 2-3. After today the Broncos play just one team with a winning record in their final four games. While not the prettiest of efforts, Denver's 17-9 win at Kansas City last week proved a point. It was the first victory for the Broncos this season where they did not score 30 or more points. The Chiefs were limited to 264 total yards in the game.
Holding down the Tampa Bay offense will not be so easy for Denver. The Bucs have scored more points than every team in the league besides New England, Houston, and the Broncos. Interestingly, the Patriots and Texans account for two of the three Denver loses. New England gashed the Broncos for 444 yards in a 31-21 victory. Houston beat Denver 31-25 totaling 436 yards in the process.
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As for the Broncos offense, a productive afternoon is likely. Peyton Manning ranks in the top three among NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage, touchdowns thrown, and QB Rating. The Bucs have allowed more yards than all but two teams in the league and nobody has yielded more ground in the passing game. Tampa Bay has been torched for 300 yards in the air seven times this year, 400 yards once, and 500 yards against the Giants in week two.
Neither team has been great in close games. The Bucs are just 2-5 in games decided by seven points or less, while Denver stands 1-1 in such contests. Whether it is a shootout, or comes down to the final drive, or both, having Manning in your corner works out a lot more frequently than it fails.