Denver Broncos and the (Harsh, Dim, Horrifying, Terrifying) NFL Playoffs

Peyton Manning Mile High Altitude

Denver Broncos fans: at worst, it will all be over February 2nd. If nothing else, we are in the home stretch of waiting and wondering. The long 12-month period since Rahim Moore became RAHIM MOORE and Joe Flacco become Joe DiMaggio is over, and only three games stand in the way of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos attempt to capture the city’s third Super Bowl and fifth professional sports title.

Just a simple piece of advice—Don’t get your hopes up.

This time around, there’s a sustainable fear in the minds of every Broncos fan, despite the overwhelming belief that this is a Super Bowl or bust year for Denver, with that Super Bowl being a legitimate goal.

Head honcho John Elway wanted to create an uncomfortable atmosphere at Dove Valley this year. That anxiety has led to DUI’s, drug suspensions, heart issues and an MVP season out of Peyton Manning.

Outside the Dove Valley compound, Elway’s discomfort has led to nightmares, hysteria and superstitions that leave terrified Bud Light fans locked in the basement. Didn’t anyone heed the slogan uttered by Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, “Football is Fun.”

Is it Denzel? Is it?

As a longtime Broncos fan, aged long past my 23 years by the Tim Tebow Train, I too am engulfed in these fears that are silently eating away at Broncos fans as we inch closer to a game in which Denver is favored by 9.5 points.

Of course, that game is being played against Phillip Rivers, who has rocked the Rocky Mountain Way. Am I wrong in thinking that things would have gone better for Denver if Drew Brees had never left San Diego? That’s a crazy thought considering that Brees will likely go down as one of the four best quarterbacks from the first era of the 21st century along with Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre. (For the record, Aaron Rodgers will more likely be classified under the second group that will include Andrew Luck and others).

The Chargers game is nerve-racking for several reasons, beyond the Broncos home loss to San Diego this season, starting with last year’s Divisional Round. The Broncos were cruising in the Ravens game and a “single play” turned the fortunes against Denver (by “single play” I mean a lot of poor decisions and a little bit of bad luck).

In hindsight, Rahim Moore was likely retribution for the Tebow to Demaryius Thomas pass that ended the Pittsburgh Steelers season the year before. I was in the stadium for both games. I still don’t think the glee at watching Thomas run into the end zone made up for the minor frostbite I sustained in the two-overtime loss to the Ravens. I mean, if they’d won, sure, frostbite is acceptable, but…

The weather. The temperature for Sunday’s game continues to inch closer to freezing and the 2:40 start feels more and more like a dark 6:00 finish. When did football become so much about the weather? When did we buy into the (overblown, but statistically backed up with a small sample size) notion that Manning cannot play in the cold weather? Worse still, why do we fret over the idea that he is not a playoff quarterback? This is the city that watched Elway struggle with inferior players for two decades before finally winning the Super Bowl. Manning didn’t win or lose any of those playoff games, it was Manning with a cast of dozens on both the Colts and Broncos…

The company of this year’s Broncos has to fuel your anxiety. Gone too soon are Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Kevin Vickerson, with question marks on the field in Trindon Holliday, Wes Welker and Champ Bailey. The Broncos are three games away from the Super Bowl, without a lifeline. To win, they need Manning to carry the storyline on his back. Manning needs to be a combination of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Michael Jordan in Space Jam. In the Space Jam scenario Manning would have to top John Elway’s spin move in his first Super Bowl. Could Manning throw a pass to himself to win a game? Are you sure he couldn’t?

After that last sentence, my word count for this article was 666 (on first edit, but still very scary), which leads me to this point. The Sports Guy Bill Simmons has been working on a theory about Elway finding Evil Peyton Manning, which fits into Manning having the greatest season of any quarterback ever at 37. While in a month a bad playoff loss could completely erode this feeling, perhaps a hungrier Manning can sustain this team. I mean, if a Patriots fan comes up with a theory about a Broncos quarterback that can help win a Super Bowl, doesn’t it have to be true?

The playoffs are a harsh, dim, horrifying, terrifying reality for the NFL’s elite. The margin for error shrinks and the storylines often overshadow the talent. But it feels like this time Manning is going to leave no doubt. It seems like this time Manning will score 50 points a game if he has too. Manning has put on the Darth Vader suit, he’s willing to fill in as middle linebacker, he’s decided that orange is really his color.

And for this week at least, it seems that Manning is super-charged for the Super Bowl. See you Sunday, Chargers.

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