The Super Bowl is a matter of days away, and the Denver Broncos will contest the 50th Anniversary game as the AFC Champions against the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. This season has been a rollercoaster for the Broncos, many people questioned whether All-star QB Peyton Manning had lost his edge as the team struggled offensively, yet they still managed to gain the #1 seed in the NFC. This coupled with mixed performances from backup Brock Osweiler, and the HGH accusations Manning faced meant that a lot of stress was piled onto the Broncos. With a rocky performance on the Offensive front, the Defence were the saving grace in most games this season, and have earned their pay in helping the offense keep those yards gained in the previous four downs. So let’s take a look at the long road to this year’s Super Bowl, and what the ups and downs were. Week 1 – Baltimore Ravens The Ravens were the opening game for the Broncos, and Manning came out with an average performance. Hitting 175 yds over 13 completed passes, this game was really won on Field goals, and a defensive interception to seal the game. People were already starting to grumble about Manning’s performance at the end of this game. Week 2 – Kansas City Chiefs The Chiefs came out as an aggressive unit, and pushed the defence hard. With Manning putting 256 yards over 24 completed passes, a 31-24 win was a definite improvement over the first game, with Manning throwing for 3 TDs. Week 3 – Detroit Lions Defeating the Lions should be an expectation for Denver, but with only 50% of his passes reaching their intended target, and only 2 TDs to 1 interception, the naysayers were back for Manning. With only 3 games of the season gone, people were already questioning his ability, and asking what the Broncos were going to do. A win helped to silence some of the critics, but was it enough? Week 4 – Minnesota Vikings Minnesota were one of the bigger opponents, and with an aggressive defence, Manning was going to need to throw less, and inch his way up the field. 17 out of 27 throws allowed him to score one TD, and gain a total of 213 yds. 2 interceptions forced him to go back to his rushers, and they helped him to win the game 23-20. Week 5 – Oakland Raiders With Oakland struggling, this was expected to be a solid win, but again, Manning was shut out. 22 complete passes out of 35 gave him 266 yds, and two interceptions. This game was won on field goals, and another defensive interception, and Manning was back where he started with the Ravens. An unconvincing win made the voices of dissent louder. Week 6 – Cleveland Browns In the least positive win of the season, 290 yds from just over 50% completion rate resulted in an overtime win against the Browns. 3 interceptions resulted in a very disappointing result against a struggling Cleveland, with the defence as guilty as the offense on this one. Week 7 – Green Bay Packers In this game, Manning started following the plays being called by the sidelines, and it paid off. 29 throws gave him 21 receptions, and only 1 interception. This game was won on the ground, and the yards were gained in the air. This was the perfect marriage of Peytons skills and the offensive plays, with a convincing 29-10 victory over Green Bay. Week 9 – Indianapolis Colts After the Bye week for the mid-season, Manning faced off against his old team, the Colts. He came out with 36 throws to 21 catches, and 281 yards overall. He broke even on TDs and interceptions, with two apiece, but a 27-24 loss was not the result that they needed coming back into the second half of the season. Manning was looking pressured in this game, and the mumbling continued about his ability as a player. Week 10 – Kansas City Chiefs This was the game. Manning put in a poor performance, with the Chiefs absolutely dominating the field for the first half. Manning took off the field with a reported foot injury, and Brock Osweiller was brought on as a replacement. He put in an admirable performance in the time he had left, but couldn’t catch up with the lead that Kansas had managed to open up. Week 11 – Chicago Bears With Manning out with a foot injury, Osweiller had his chance to show what he could do. Working within the scheme given to him, Brock played a conservative game, putting 250 Yds on the field, and letting the game play out. A 2 point win against the Bears wasn’t convincing, but he was already being hailed as a saviour in some parts. Week 12 – New England Patriots With the Patriots still undefeated, they were looking to take a win from the fresh QB, but Osweiller showed that even against the big boys, he could excel running the Broncos playbook. 270yds and 1TD for 1 interception. Handing off for a rushing TD in OT gave the Broncos the win, and took the momentum out of the Patriots. Week 13 – San Diego Chargers The Chargers took a battering from Osweiller and his offense in the first quarter, and the rest of the game was pretty quiet on the scoreboard. With only one TD, Osweiller still wasn’t lighting any fires under Manning, but he was definitely keeping Denver afloat. Week 14 – Oakland Raiders This game was far harder than it needed to be. 12 points from Denver being scored exclusively by special teams, the first half was a good show from the Broncos on how to defend. The second half saw them fold under the pressure of the Oakland offense, allowing 15 points, and giving Osweiller his first loss of the season. Dissapointing considering that he threw for 308yds, without an interception. Week 15 – Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 saw the mighty Steelers, at this point absolutely desperate to beat the Bengals to the AFC North title, face off against the Broncos. Osweiller opened up the game with a dominant 1st half, throwing for 3 TDs over 296yds. Unfortunately, like his last 3 games, the second half was all about the opposition, and they were steamrollered by Pittsburgh to a 34-27 loss. Week 16 – Cincinnati Bengals This week was where the Broncos needed to change pace. Three weeks where the second half of the game saw them allowing points indicated that the defence needed a spruce. Conversations were clearly had, as the Bengals found themselves facing a refreshed Denver. With Osweiller throwing for almost 300yds, with no interceptions, and allowing the rushers and kickers to get them the points, the aggressive Bengals were silenced in the second quarter, and placated for the rest of the game, to give the Broncos the win. Week 17 – San Diego Chargers The last game of the regular season saw the Broncos already in the playoffs but with plenty to play for with the #1 seed on the line. With Manning reportedly ready for a return, the Broncos were careful with how they played him, and he threw a total of 9 balls for 5 catches, and a 69 yard gain. Osweiller led the team to a 27-20 victory over San Diego, with 232 yards off of 14 receptions. Divisional playoffs – Pittsburgh Steelers The first round Bye turned out to be a blessing for Denver, enabling Manning to recover, and come back with a more convincing attitude than that seen earlier in the season. Apparently watching Brock taught him a few things, and he came back with 222yd performance, with 0 interceptions, and a 60% success rate. Field goals put most of the points on the board, with a rushing TD, and a PAT2 giving them the win in the fourth quarter. Divisional Championship – New England Patriots With this game being advertised as one of the biggest games of the season, and memories of their meeting earlier in the season fresh in the minds of each team, this game turned out very differently. With each team playing conservatively, and Manning only putting in 176 yards in passes. Two touchdowns proved that he still had it against Brady, with Denver pulling out the narrow victory thanks to the first missed PAT by Stephen Gotskowski in over 500 attempts. With this on board, and the lessons learned from the matches that have been played, it’s time for the Broncos to look forward to the Panthers. With a defence that has effectively dragged this team to the Superbowl, and a mixed duo for QBs, the Broncos have had to fight hard for this. If Denver can play to their strengths, relying on their defence to keep the scoreline low and controlling the clock with their strong running game they will hope to force the Panthers into mistakes. This is where Manning has what could be his final shot at the title, and if the rumours are true, where he retires at the top. Either way, this has been a long road for Denver, and their defence deserve to lift that trophy, even if their offense has struggled.