Printed on: December 13, 2012

Broncos to face tough test

By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Though nobody would discount an eight-game winning streak in the NFL, there's a not-so-little secret about the one Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are currently enjoying.

Quite simply, they haven't played anyone all that good since the streak started back in October.

Nobody the Broncos have beaten over their longest winning streak since the 1998 Super Bowl season would be in the playoffs if they started today. Only one -- Cincinnati at 7-6 -- currently has a winning record.

All of which adds yet another layer of intrigue to this week's game at Baltimore.

"This is the type of team that we will have to play in the playoffs," linebacker Von Miller said. "This is the type of team that has been very successful in the past. ... And this is the type of team that we have to play to gauge ourselves and see what type of team we are."

Not only will the game against the Ravens (9-4) go a long way toward determining where the Broncos (10-3), currently seeded third, land in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs, it will, true to Miller's words, give them a true litmus test on a number of issues. Among them:

How well do they stack up against one of the league's best teams with what is traditionally one of its best defenses that could be getting linebacker Ray Lewis back in the lineup this week?

How well can they play outdoors, on the road in December, which is where the playoffs could conceivably take them? (Sunday's forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain.)

"You have to play the best teams at the end," cornerback Chris Harris said. "So it's good to play the best teams early, so by the time you get to the playoffs, you've had a good test."

That "good test," some might say, has been lacking during this eight-game winning streak, which has, to Denver's credit, included road wins against San Diego, Cincinnati, Carolina, Kansas City and Oakland. Also during that time, the Broncos have captured the AFC West. They've outscored teams by an average of 30-18. Manning has thrown for 2,313 yards and 19 scores over the eight games and has surpassed either John Elway or Dan Marino, or both, for second place on the NFL all-time list for completions, touchdown passes and wins for a starting quarterback.

Through it all, the Broncos have stuck to the mantra that they take them one at a time with the goal of playing their best football come December.

But given the strength of their competition during the streak -- combined .356 winning percentage -- and some of the flaws they've shown, it's hard to tell whether they're doing that.

For instance, in last week's 26-13 win over Oakland, the Broncos settled for four field goals, all of them after moving inside the Raiders 20-yard line. Denver is ranked 10th this season in scoring touchdowns after getting inside the opponent's 20, but the offense has failed to reach the end zone in nine of its last 15 trips.

Denver's running game, now led by Knowshon Moreno after Willis McGahee's knee injury, averages 3.8 yards a carry, only 25th in the league. It's a statistic that, presumably, the team would like to improve on, given the possibility of a road playoff game in New England, or maybe a return trip to Baltimore.

Much is being made this week of Manning's 6-0 record vs. the Ravens since 2002 compared with Denver's 0-4 lifetime rec-ord in games at Baltimore since the Ravens arrived.