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Gray Matter Mailbag: Playoff Possibilities

Posted Dec 6, 2013

In this week's fan mailbag, Gray Caldwell answers questions on playoff scenarios, passing records and the running game.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is cold. I have worn my puffy coat (think George Costanza) to work all week. The Broncos, meanwhile, have practiced outside for two of their three sessions.

The only day they went inside was due to so much snow that proper footing would've been next to impossible. It was a player-safety issue.

"I like guys getting in the elements, obviously, because that’s kind of the forecast for game day," Head Coach John Fox said.

I bring that up because there was a surprising lack of weather-related questions this week. Anyway, let's get to the questions you did send in. Thanks as always for your submissions, which you can tweet all week long to @GrayCaldwell using the hashtag #GrayMatter.

Good question, and there are three cut-and-dried scenarios in which the Broncos can clinch a spot in the playoffs. The first is a win against the Titans. Take care of business and don't worry about what other teams are doing. But there are two other options that could be decided before the Broncos even kick off on Sunday. If the Miami Dolphins lose or tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field or the Baltimore Ravens lose or tie against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium, the Broncos will also secure a playoff berth.

To recap: a win, a Baltimore loss or tie or a Miami loss or tie clinches Denver a playoff spot.

I don't think that's a goal, no. Certainly Peyton Manning is on track -- his 41 touchdown passes so far this season are tied for the most in NFL history through 12 games with Tom Brady's 41 scores in 2007. That year, Brady set the record of 50, passing Manning's previous record of 49. If Manning throws two touchdown passes this week, he'll tie Drew Brees for the seventh-most in a single season in NFL history.

But when Manning was asked if he's eyeing the touchdown record, he said simply "no," particularly with an "unfamiliar opponent" on deck in the Tennessee Titans.

The quarterback is on pace to set the record, but I don't expect game plans to revolve around trying to catch Brady's number.

"Certainly our job as an offense to try to score points and that’s running the ball, throwing the ball, whatever it is," Manning said. "Somehow, someway we've got to try to score points to help our team win. That’s where the focus is and it’s pretty easy just to focus on that.”

I let this one sneak in to keep your streak alive, but I can't answer that. As Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said last week when asked what he would've chosen had the Broncos won the overtime coin toss in New England: "No hypotheticals.”

I guess to play off of the previous question, the record isn't really a goal. The goal is to win games and put the team in the best position for the playoffs. There's still plenty of football to be played until that potential scenario plays out -- including two games in a five-day stretch starting Sunday. So let's just take it one week at a time.

We've touched on this a little in past mailbags, but certainly as the weather gets colder, the running game becomes all the more important throughout the NFL. That's particularly true with gusting winter winds.

"If it’s a windy-condition game, I might in my head think we should run the ball more," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said this week.

That's why Montee Ball's 100-yard outburst last week against the Kansas City Chiefs was so important. The more balance the better, and the more fresh running backs the Broncos can throw at opponents, the better.

“I think that was big for our offense because if we can keep Knowshon (Moreno) where he was (with his workload) for that game, it helps him the rest of the way out," Gase said. "We have four regular-season games and hopefully more than that — three more after that — and we need him for the whole way."

"We need to make sure he plays the rest of the way out and if Montee can cut those reps in half for Knowshon, that would be big for our offense.”