What's the difference this time?
These playoffs are a case study in a debate as old as postseason sports: is it better to enter on a roll or lose a game along the way? Last season the Broncos opened the playoffs with all the momentum of an 11-game winning streak. They lost their first playoff game. The current Broncos lost to San Diego in Week 15, just one month ago. What's the difference from last season to this season? The Broncos are not as balanced. They are more powerful on offense but weaker than the top-five defense from 2012. The statistics don't tell the whole story, though. The 2012 Broncos played in an AFC West where the three opponents combined for the same number of wins as the Broncos (13). These Broncos were forced to play their best games against division rivals Kansas City and San Diego, who rounded out the only division to put three teams in the playoffs. Which is better: battle-tested or momentum? We'll learn Sunday.
Take a Holliday
There's an ongoing debate on how the Broncos should use Trindon Holliday in the playoffs. The Broncos return man is the ultimate risk-reward player, as scary with his returns as he is with his slippery fingers. Holliday is the rare player who makes his own team as nervous as the other team. Despite the risk, the Broncos must stick with Holliday. The BCS championship game offered a reminder how a dangerous return man can win a game. Florida State's Kermit Whitfield, at 5-foot-7, scored on a 100-yard kick return. The Seminoles won. Holliday, at 5-5, last year scored a punt return and a kick return in the playoff loss to the Ravens. In assembling a roster, you always want players the opponent doesn't want to deal with. The Chargers don't want to deal with Holliday. In their win in Denver, they didn't allow a punt return.
Where'd the time go?
It was the first week of training camp, way back in August, when the Broncos were faced with the realization that this season is different. This is Super Bowl or bust. "I've been to a lot of horse races where I've seen a lot of favorites not win, so you have to take care of things between those lines," coach John Fox said then. "Everybody in that building understands that." It all goes by so quickly, doesn't it? It seems like yesterday that new-kid-on-the-block Wes Welker was drawing oohs and ahhs from the record crowd soaking in training camp at Dove Valley. "He's so small," I heard more than once. Since then, scoring records fell as often as starters to injury; the Broncos lost their defensive MVP, Von Miller, and their second-highest paid player, Ryan Clady; Fox underwent heart surgery; the Broncos never dropped below No. 2 on the NFL power rankings. Sunday's result will be remembered above it all.