- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each blogger is nominating one team from the division he covers that, with seven weeks remaining in the regular season, has the look of a team that could contend for the Super Bowl.
I wouldn’t have been able to participate in this exercise in the past two Novembers. There just weren’t any worthy candidates in the AFC West. However, for the first time since the 2009 San Diego Chargers, I feel comfortable this late in the season nominating a team that could make a Super Bowl push.
The Denver Broncos could be January-strong. The 2009 Chargers failed in the playoffs after going 13-3, so perhaps the Broncos can end a long drought for the division.
The last time the AFC West was represented in the Super Bowl was January 2003, when the Oakland Raiders were throttled by Tampa Bay. Since then, the seven other divisions have all been represented in the Super Bowl at least twice.
There is reason to believe these Broncos could end that streak. Ranked No. 7 in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, Denver is playing some of the best football in the NFL. The Broncos (6-3) have won four consecutive games and have a two-game lead in the AFC West.
Denver’s Super Bowl chances start with quarterback Peyton Manning. He is playing at a high level and is a leading candidate for league MVP. Just as the Broncos had hoped when they signed the 36-year-old Manning in March, his presence has elevated the play of the entire team. His receivers and offensive linemen have improved as the season has progressed, and Denver’s defense has become suffocating, featuring a possible NFL Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Von Miller. Denver’s kicking game is top-notch, and new kick returner Trindon Holliday has taken kicks back for scores in each of the past two games.
This team is clicking on all cylinders. Consider this nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: The Broncos have the best team Total QBR (84.3) and the third-best defensive Total QBR (32.0) this season -- a plus-52.3-point differential in the rating that tabulates the impact of quarterback play. Since the start of 2008, the highest QBR differential over a full season is 44.5, set by the 2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Even though it has been nearly 14 years since Denver went to the Super Bowl, this team has Super Bowl experience at key spots. Manning went to the game twice with the Indianapolis Colts, winning one. Coach John Fox has led a team to the Super Bowl, and team executive John Elway went to five as a player, winning two.
In the end, the Broncos are likely going to have to get past Houston, Baltimore and New England, but at this point in the season, it would be a mistake to think they shouldn’t be on a short list of Super Bowl contenders.