By Mark Schiff
The Broncos may have capped one of their craziest seasons in team history by clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC on Sunday, but the team’s nine wins in games decided by seven points or less also illustrates Denver’s thin margin for error. If anything, Sunday’s turnover-filled win over San Diego highlighted something that’s plagued the team throughout the season: Mistakes made of their own errors.
Quarterback Peyton Manning threw 17 interceptions despite playing only about a half a season. The defense finished first overall but was penalized more than any other unit in the league. And Denver’s receivers dropped far too many passes at crucial times.
So for the Broncos to make it to Super Bowl 50, they’ll have to play a cleaner game on both sides of the ball. Thankfully, they’ll have an extra week to work out their issues at practice before they play their divisional round game on January 17.
As Denver enjoys a well-earned break over wild-card weekend, here are your team headlines.
Hillman’s Offensive Player of the Week award caps a season full of honors
On Wednesday morning, the Broncos announced that running back Ronnie Hillman was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 117-yard performance (a career high) against the Chargers. With the honor, Hillman became the sixth Bronco to win a Player of the Week award this season, the most of any AFC team.
In addition to Hillman, running back C.J. Anderson took home the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award in Week 12 for his game against the Patriots, while quarterback Brock Osweiler was awarded the honor in his first career start for his performance against the Bears. On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Aqib Talib won the award for his Week 1 pick-six against Baltimore, safety T.J. Ward was tapped for the honor for his game against Minnesota and defensive end Derek Wolfe was singled out for his performance against the Packers in Week 8.
MMQB names Wade Phillips Assistant Coach of the Year
The estimable NFL writer Peter King assembled a gaggle of media members, analytics experts and assorted NFL fans for an unconventional end-of-season awards piece on King’s site, The MMQB. Under their voting system, Denver’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tallied enough votes to win Assistant Coach of the Year. The honor is notable because Phillips wasn’t just going up against other defensive coordinators but assistant coaches on both sides of the ball. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson came in second while Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula placed third.
Players get paid based on postseason play
“NFL Player” is not a typical job; neither is its pay structure. Players receive their annual salary over the 17 weeks of the regular season, with playoff payouts coming from a league pool rather than individual teams. So players on a division winner get $25,000 for the wild-card round, while all players on wild-card teams receive $23,000. Members of Denver’s 53-man roster will get a $25,000 check for playing in the divisional round and an additional $46,000 if they make it to the conference championship. If they get to the Super Bowl, Denver’s players will get $51,000 if they lose and $102,000 for winning the championship.
An excellent piece by former sports agent Joel Corry on CBSSports.com illustrates how this pay structure affects different players. If Denver wins the Super Bowl, its players stand to earn an additional $173,000 in pay. For someone like Peyton Manning, who earned $15 million this season, that amounts to little more than a nice bonus but to a player like Shaquil Barrett, who is playing for a league minimum $435,000, that figure represents nearly 40 percent of his annual salary. So while we tend to think of the glory of a championship being its own reward, underpaid players like Barrett also have a large financial stake in postseason success.
Bye week practices kick off tomorrow. Keep it here on for full coverage leading up to the team’s playoff game against the Chiefs, Steelers or Texans, which is scheduled for Jan. 17 at 2:40pm, right here on CBS4 Denver.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.