The Denver Broncos have envisioned the afternoon of Jan. 19 for about two years. Ever since the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in summer 2012, dreams of their third Super Bowl title have danced in their heads. Denver might have had it last year if not for the Baltimore Ravens, but now the Broncos can finally return to Super Bowl Sunday on Jan. 19, against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
This is a fitting psychological barrier for the Broncos and Manning , as the Patriots have set the bar for the AFC and Manning for years. Denver lost to New England in its last game without Manning -- and last with Tim Tebow -- in the 2011-12 divisional playoffs, and is 0-2 against the Patriots since Manning took over.
However, those two losses were in New England, with the second coming from Denver blowing a 24-0 halftime lead on Nov. 24. This time, the Patriots have to visit the Broncos in Denver, in their first road playoff game since blowing the AFC title to Manning's Indianapolis Colts seven years ago. In addition, the Patriots lost a divisional playoff battle to the Broncos on the road in 2005, which ended their quest for a threepeat.
Other than reaching the AFC championship game that season, the Broncos haven't been this close to the Super Bowl since the final years of John Elway. At the least, for all his postseason failures, Manning has reached two and won one in the last 15 seasons.
Given the recent fear that Manning's upcoming neck exam could force him to retire, or only come back for one more year, this could be one of the Broncos last chances for a title. When Elway left after Denver won two straight Super Bowls, it immediately dropped off and only became elite again with Manning. But the Broncos knew they would only have a relatively short window of opportunity with him.
Denver wasted its first chance to win a ring with Manning last January. Yet losing here against an underdog New England club lucky to get this far would be 10 times worse. It would take some time for Manning and the Broncos to get over this one -- for if they can't even win it all right here, when can they?
The Broncos can help make that moot starting at 3 p.m. est on CBS.