Commentary

McDaniels from Denver friend to foe

Current Patriots coordinator looks to defeat roster he helped construct

Originally Published: November 22, 2013
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

As Peyton Manning and Tom Brady prepare to renew their rivalry in prime time Sunday night, the coach trying to take down the Broncos will be the same one who helped reinvigorate the franchise.

Former Broncos head coach and current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be trying to outdo many of the players he brought to Denver.

McDaniels presided over drafts in Denver in 2009 and 2010, a pair of drafts that produced players instrumental in the success of this year's team.

In 2009, McDaniels used the Broncos' first two picks on running back Knowshon Moreno and linebacker Robert Ayers.

The next year, McDaniels stockpiled even more talent. As it turns out, Denver's class of 2010 was a lot more than just Tim Tebow, who wasn't even the first player the Broncos drafted.

The first player Denver selected in 2010, with the 22nd overall pick, was Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Three of their next four selections were used on guard Zane Beadles, center J.D. Walton and wide receiver Eric Decker.

And the pick between Thomas and the other three aforementioned Broncos was, of course, Tebow.

But McDaniels drafted four of the starters on this year's record-setting offense, and it would have been five if Walton had been healthy all season long.

Despite the negative feelings some in Denver harbor for McDaniels, he still helped build a foundation for a team that has won 20 of its last 21 regular-season games and nine straight divisional games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

McDaniels even affected the Broncos in his departure. When Denver fired McDaniels, it wanted to turn its organization back over to one of its own, leading the Broncos to hire John Elway, their Hall of Fame former quarterback, who was then able to help persuade Manning to come to Denver.

Manning brought the Broncos back to the list of the NFL's elite teams, and he now has them vying not just for offensive records, but the AFC's No. 1 seed.

To get it, the Broncos will have to bring down the coach who helped build them into the NFL power they are today.

Separating from the pack: An injury can always alter the landscape in a moment, but before Thanksgiving next week the AFC playoff picture has come into focus.

New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver and Kansas City -- the only AFC teams above .500 -- appear destined to reach the postseason. Then the rest of the AFC field would be left to battle it out for the sole remaining spot. And never before has the field looked as large as it is now.

There are eight teams -- yes, eight! -- at either 5-5 or 4-6. The last time a conference had as few as five teams with a winning record through at least 11 weeks was the NFC in 2007.

One of these AFC teams has to emerge. It might just seem like a different one will each week until the last Sunday of the season, when one has to round out the AFC playoff field.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesThe Jets' record may be a surprise, but the way they've been shelled in losses is a major disappointment.

The Jets are in the hunt, but ... When the season kicked off, many around the league predicted the league's two worst teams would be the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets have been better than expected; the Jaguars, not so much.

But the two teams are still connected through another stat that reveals the Jets might not be as tough as their 5-5 record: In their 10 games this season, they have been outscored by 85 points. The only team in the league that has a worse point differential is the Jaguars, who have been outscored by 189 points.

When the Jets have won, they have won by the thinnest of the margins. When they've lost, they've lost ugly. But what the Jets have on their side is that it's their turn to win Sunday. They are the first team in history to go win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss in their first 10 games. If the pattern holds, the Jets will beat Baltimore, again by the narrowest of margins.

Yet their point differential has to be a disconcerting sign, despite the success the team has had this season.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the Week: Broncos at Patriots -- Manning versus Brady. This matchup is always a classic and never gets old.

Upset of the Week: Patriots over Broncos -- Aside from the quarterbacks, there are division titles and playoff seeds on the line, and New England is tough place to win, especially in November.

Player of the Week: Rams RB Zac Stacy -- There will be a real chance for Stacy to run the Rams to a victory against an injury-ravaged Chicago defense.

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