Broncos boast firepower, confident Peyton Manning

By Arnie Stapleton

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18 2014 10:08 p.m. MST

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) speaks during a news conference at the NFL Denver Broncos football training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. The Broncos are scheduled to play the New England Patriots on Sunday for the AFC Championship.

Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

DENVER — Maybe it's because the forecast calls for the mercury to push toward 60 degrees Sunday, when plenty of fans will be tempted to get in a quick nine holes before heading down to the stadium to fire up the grill.

Or maybe it's because the Denver Broncos, with so many sidelined superstars, have weathered everything thrown at them in the eventful year since that wrenching loss to the Ravens in last January's playoffs.

More likely, Peyton Manning just looked over New England's defense and realized that unless the Broncos beat themselves with fumbles, stumbles and tumbles, the highest-scoring team in NFL history should put up plenty of points on the Patriots.

Whatever the explanation, Manning was as carefree in the week leading up to Sunday's showdown with nemesis Tom Brady as he's been in the two years since he traded the blue and white horseshoe on his helmet for the orange-mane mustang.

And even though they'll be without shutdown cornerback Chris Harris Jr., as long as they play assignment-sound football the Broncos (14-3) know they should be able to mix it up enough to keep Brady and LeGarrette Blount, coming off a four-TD game against Indianapolis, in check to claim the AFC championship.

Manning, who's thrown for 97 TD passes while going 27-7 with the Broncos, was so loose that the news conferences he normally treats like a dip in the cold tub were more like open mic nights at the comedy club.

On Wednesday, he pretended to shed a bit of light on his new favorite city, the name of which he shouted out 44 times from the line of scrimmage during Denver's playoff win over San Diego last weekend.

"I've had a lot of people ask me what 'Omaha' means," Manning said. "It's a run play, but it could be a pass play, or a play-action pass, depending on a couple of things. The wind, which way we're going, the quarter and the jerseys we're wearing. It varies from play to play."

With the AFC title game looming and the number of reporters quadrupling for his weekly session with the media, No. 18 was at his deadpan best.

Manning didn't even have to cap his pressers with an "I'll be here all week, try the veal!" because Elway's, that swank restaurant owned by, yes, his boss, John Elway, catered lunch. So, it was more like, try the carved tenderloin and the Loch Duart Scottish Salmon.

These are certainly heady times in the Mile High City. After all, the Broncos scored a record 606 points this season and they're favored Sunday for the 29th straight game.

Plus, it's been 15 years since Elway won his second straight Super Bowl and then rode off into that orange Rocky Mountain sunset.

Although Manning owns a pedestrian 4-10 record in games against Brady, this one's not at frigid Foxborough, where he lost 34-31 in overtime in November. And this time, Manning needn't bundle up on the sideline between series.

Plus, he's got the better supporting cast for a change.

Manning set an NFL record for yardage (5,447) and touchdown passes (55) this season, while completing at least 60 passes to an astonishing five players: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Knowshon Moreno.

All five of them reached the end zone at least 10 times, too. No other team in the 93-year history of the league had more than three players score double digit TDs.

It's a pick-your-poison proposition for opponents, who can't double cover them all. Someone's always singled up — if not wide open.

Like Julius Thomas was on third-and-17 against San Diego in the waning minutes. Manning ducked the pass rush and hit his big tight end for a 21-yard gain that helped the Broncos salt away the win, finally burying the demons of their loss to Baltimore.

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