The Denver Broncos have checked a strong regular season off their to-do list.
Now the postseason is upon them and a chance to redeem themselves for a flop last year against the Baltimore Ravens.
But before the AFC playoffs start for the Broncos, it is time to look back on the regular season and hand off some grades. Oh, what a regular season it was.
Quarterback: This is the easiest grade to give. Peyton Manning was outstanding all season long. He threw an NFL record 55 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions. He also beat Drew Brees’ yardage mark.
The future Hall-of-Famer is on the way to his record-setting fifth MVP award. The Broncos would be a below average football team without him. Manning is playing some of his best football at 37 years old and only two years removed from four neck surgeries. Grade: A+
Running back: Knowhson Moreno went from third string in the preseason to snubbed Pro Bowler in the regular season. The back registered his first 1,000-yard season and has become an emotional leader on the team.
The only struggles at this position were the fumbles by Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman early in the season. Hillman struggled so much he was deactivated for several games. Ball got better as the season went on and become a strong compliment to Moreno. Grade: B
Wide receiver: The trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker was as good as expected. Each caught double-digit touchdowns. Manning spread the ball to all three equally. Thomas led the team with 93 catches, Decker had 87 and Welker grabbed 73. Welker also missed the last three games of the season. Bubba Caldwell filled in nicely when called upon.
Only negative here is each receiver had some drops, but other than that, the group is stellar. Grade: A
Tight end: Welcome to the Julius Thomas coming out party. He had one catch for seven yards before this season. He got a little better to the tune of 65 catches and 12 touchdowns in 2013. He is force to be reckoned with.
Vigil Green, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen all did their jobs. All three were key in the blocking scheme and all three had moments in the passing game. Grade: A
Offensive line: This group did pretty well for missing their best player in Ryan Clady since Week 2. When Clady went down with a foot injury, many thought it would be trouble for Denver. Chris Clark has filled in great and while not as fantastic as Clady, Clark has quite Manning upright most of the time.
Louis Vasquez could be the best guard in the game and Manny Ramirez grabbed the starting center job and never let go. Zane Beadles and Orlando Franklin continue to improve. The group only allowed 18 sacks all season and helped Moreno to a 1,000 yard season.
In the Broncos’ losses, the O-line looked shaky at times. But overall, they are strong as ever. Grade: A
Defensive line: Interior part of the line was strong especially when Kevin Vickerson was healthy. But the Broncos miss Vickerson, who was injured against the New England Patriots. Terrance Knighton proved a lot of doubters wrong and become a big force in the middle.
Malik Jackson came into his own during his second season. He recorded six sacks, second only to Shaun Phillips. Phillips was a steal in free agency with 10.5 sacks from the defensive end position. Derek Wolfe missed time because of an illness and Robert Ayers made plays but still not a huge impact. Grade: B-
Linebacker: Despite his recent demotion, Wesley Woodyard is still the heart and soul of this defense. Danny Trevathan played great in his first year starting. Von Miller, who missed the first six games, made some impact but was not the same player. His replacement, Nate Irving, didn’t do a ton.
Woodyard and Trevathan excelled in coverage early but struggled at times down the stretch. The group suffered without the normal big play making of Miller at times. Paris Lenon has played but he really has done nothing. Grade: C+
Secondary: This is the group that has struggled the most for the Broncos even though there is plenty of talent back there. Champ Bailey missed most of the year. Rahim Moore improved but missed a lot of time with a leg injury. Duke Ihenacho was up and down and Chris Harris was the same way. Kayvon Webster was exposed a lot during his rookie season.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was a star and needs to be re-signed by the Broncos. He is their shutdown corner. Grade: C
Special teams: Matt Prater is a Pro Bowl kicker. He broke the NFL record with a 64-yard field goal against the Tennessee Titans in December. With the potent offense, Britton Colquitt barely saw the field at times. He is solid when called upon. Grade: A
Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke
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