DENVER- Heading into this season, based on the combined 2013 win percentages of their opponents, the Broncos had the second-toughest schedule in the NFL. The only team with a more daunting schedule was their Week 17 opponent, the Raiders.
Following a Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos had an arduous task ahead of them. But the Broncos concluded the 2014 regular season strong with a convincing 47-14 win over the Raiders on Sunday to finish with a 12-4 record.
"The schedule that we had was a good thing," Manning said after Sunday's game. "We knew we had a tough schedule coming out, when it came out in April, and it proved to be true. To win 12 games is a good thing."
The Broncos started off the season on a roll with a 5-1 start and their only loss coming to the Seahawks in Seattle in overtime. The Broncos then had two losses in three weeks and fell to the Bengals last Monday night.
But the Broncos made it through the season with 12 wins, finishing the year with their third-ever perfect divisional record and their sixth-ever undefeated home record. The Broncos won the AFC West for the fourth-consecutive season.
The 1998 Broncos were the only other Broncos team to be perfect at home and in the division.
Though the Broncos came into Sunday's game sitting in the top five in the league on both offense and defense, Manning still sees room for the team to grow.
"Certainly we can always get better," Manning said when asked where the offense is right now. "I think you want to play your best starting going forward. We are always trying to get better. We have done something right to win 12 games. I don't think you luck into that. Sure, can we improve? Yeah, we can improve. We will use these next two weeks to try and improve."
With the win on Sunday, the Broncos were able to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a much-needed first-round bye.
In recent weeks, Head Coach John Fox's injury reports have grown more extensive and with the Broncos' Week 4 bye far in the rearview mirror, Sunday's win against a much-improved Oakland team was crucial. The Broncos are tired and are fighting through bumps, bruises and injuries.
"I think we need it," Manning said of the bye. "I think we're a little beat up, physically. I know I am, I know anybody playing on the offensive line or defensive line, for sure. I know some of our receivers could use this week to hopefully get healthy, I know that's my plan. So I think that's a good thing."
Check out the action from an explosive second half in Denver, where the Broncos coasted to a 47-14 win.
After incurring a thigh injury in San Diego, he said he feels much like his teammates: "I feel like all the other players in the locker room—guys that have played 17 weeks of physical football. I think this bye week is coming at a good time."
The Broncos will have two weeks off before facing either the Bengals, Colts or Steelers – the first two, the Broncos have played against already this season. The Broncos fell to the Bengals last week 37-28 and opened the season topping the Colts 31-24.
Manning noted that while there is familiarity between the teams that the Broncos have already played, studying is still required. When asked, he couldn't determine if playing a team for the second time in one season makes the game easier.
"Teams change a lot from the last time you played them, especially if you played a team earlier in the year," Manning said. "It could be different. I can't say whether one way or the other. You still have to study and get to know them. I think this week is a good week for us to study ourselves since you don't know who you are playing. I have stopped trying to guess and, 'Hey this team is going to win, this team will surely going to win that game.' I am not very good at that. We will see how it plays out after next Sunday but I think we can use this week to get healthy and to study ourselves as well."
Manning said the bye week allows players to analyze their entire seasons and find the positives, in addition to places to improve.
On Sunday, the Broncos were powered by C.J. Anderson's three touchdowns. Anderson has been a breakout star for the Broncos in recent weeks as he has accumulated seven rushing TDs in the past five weeks compared to Manning's five passing scores.
While Manning entered the game leading the NFL with 39 passing TDs, the offense has relied much more on the running backs since Week 11 and Manning called Anderson and recently-activated Ronnie Hillman a good "one-two punch." The Broncos have amped up their run game overall and this season's defense is much-improved from last year's.
But when asked if he feels less weight on his shoulders heading into the playoffs compared to last year, he was very direct in his answer: "You have to do your job."
"You have to do your job as a quarterback—protecting the ball, get the ball to the playmakers, try to check us into the right play if it is a check play," he said. "I feel that we've won as a team this year and you're looking to play well in all three phases—especially against good football teams. We've done that at times and at times we haven't done it. I think offensively you're looking to do your job and you're hoping the defense plays their best and if they are having an off day, you're hoping that you can kind of fill it up for them.
"I think you get into the postseason, everybody has expectations to do their job and as a quarterback that is what I want to do, is do my part."
Check out the action from the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.