Denver No. 1 in our hearts and AFC West

The Denver Broncos are No. 1 in the hearts of all right-thinking National Football League fans.

They are also No. 1 in the AFC West and, at 9-1, hold the head-to-head playoff tiebreaker over the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs.

The John Fox/Jack Del Rio coaching combination also has the team as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff seeding chart, a position regained after falling as low as the No. 5 seed and into wild-card territory with a loss at Indianapolis in Week 7.

With a bit of luck, more good pass blocking and the continued other-worldly play of a certain quarterback who is wearing what amounts to a cast on his right ankle, that top seed could hold up.

But nobody said it was going to be easy. All it will take to fall back into the wild-card category is a second loss.

That certainly could be on the horizon.

The Broncos are half-way through a four-game stretch that was eyed as the toughest part of the season and, so far, so good. With Del Rio at the helm, they have gone on the road and beaten San Diego, then handed the Chiefs their first loss.

Those two completed tasks, however, pale in comparison to what the Broncos are now faced with.

Denver has been favored in every game it has played — for the most part heavy favorites.

That will not be the case over the next two weeks.

For a second Sunday night in a row the Broncos will play on prime time with a nation watching when this Sunday night, the challenge will be to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots.

That’s never an easy task and, as luck would have it, Bill Belichick’s team, now 7-3 on the season after a Monday night last-second loss at Carolina, is getting healthy. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and defensive back Aqib Talib all have returned from the injured list and will be very much in evidence against Denver.

The opening line had Denver a 2½-point favorite. Bet on the Broncos at your own peril in that one.

The next week in Kansas City, while there has been no betting line established, the one thing you can bet on is the Chiefs being fired up and their fans being noisy.

Factor in the normally crappy Kansas City winter weather and Peyton Manning’s well-known (perhaps overblown) inability to cope with chilly elements and you know this one won’t be one of those 25- or 30-point blowouts.

Yes, two weeks, two tough tasks ahead.

Win both and start making plans for yet another opening-round playoff bye (which may not be a good thing for the Broncos, as history would suggest).

Win one of two and it’s going to be a battle right down to the wire with the Chiefs for all the regular-season marbles.

Lose both and it could be on to a thought I had last week as the Broncos were preparing to host the Chiefs:

I was ready to suggest to Mr. John Elway that he have a chat with his starting quarterback and suggest said quarterback take a seat on the bench for a week or two, maybe more, to heal his injured ankles. That would seem to make sense if the Broncos were to be a legitimate title contender from the wild-card slot — something that Mr. Elway knows much about from the 1997-98 season.

I was going to make such a suggestion if Manning was ineffective and getting hammered by the Chiefs, perhaps forcing the dreaded Brock Osweiler sighting, and they fell two games behind in the West.

Didn’t happen.

Manning, despite his ankle, was Manning against the Chiefs to the tune of another 300-yard passing game.

He will be Manning and have his team competitive even in the toughest stretch of the season. And, for the second straight season, it will come down to chasing that top seed, probably through the final game of the season.

Lord, help us all.


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