Every AFC playoff team has flaws. Only one AFC team has a quarterback with 51 touchdowns this season and an offense that is likely to set the all-time record for points in Week 17.
That's why the Denver Broncos are still the conference favorites to make the Super Bowl, especially if they beat the Oakland Raiders on Sunday to clinch home-field advantage. The Broncos just aren't huge favorites anymore after the season-ending torn ACL for linebacker Von Miller.
Denver's defensive depth has been tested all season, and it hasn't been pretty. Shaun Phillips has done a serviceable job replacing Elvis Dumervil, but it's a steep drop from there on the depth chart. Nate Irving took Miller's spot in the Broncos base defense Sunday against Houston. On passing downs, Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey picked up the slack. Mincey was just signed from Jacksonville.
The Broncos will have to replace one of the league's best players with backups that couldn't regularly get on the field for a below average defense. The Broncos are No. 22 in the league in points allowed.
Miller had just five sacks since returning to the lineup after six games, which created a false storyline that he was struggling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Miller was dominant stopping the run and still looked like the best pass rusher at his position in the league.
Pro Football Focus notes that Miller had eight quarterback hits and 27 hurries in only nine games. That production helped him reach the No. 1 spot in their outside linebacker rankings, and it wasn't even close. Only three defensive players in the entire league had a higher grade than Miller this season.
The Broncos went 6-0 without Miller to start the season, but that was against an easy schedule with a healthier defense. Defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson and safety Rahim Moore are now out for the season. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe and cornerback Kayvon Webster have struggled with injuries. Champ Bailey is a shell of his former self.
This is a mediocre defense that has problems now more than ever. They had a four-game stretch starting in late November where they gave up 29 points per game. There aren't many players on the Broncos defense that worry opposing coordinators. Miller was the massive exception.
Pass defense problems
The Broncos were dead last in passing yards allowed during the first six weeks of the season when Miller was suspended. With Miller in the lineup, they were seventh. The Broncos gave up one fewer point per game with Miller, and 74 fewer yards per game with Miller in the lineup. That's especially impressive because Denver had so many injuries during the stretch where Miller played.
On the plus side
Peyton Manning will have to carry the Broncos defense to win his second title. The good news: Every other Super Bowl contender is similarly imbalanced, with the possible exception of Seattle. The next best offense in the AFC resides in San Diego, a team that probably won't make the playoffs. Tom Brady and New England remain dangerous, but they have a ton of injury injuries on both sides of the ball. Andy Dalton and Alex Smith shouldn't strike fear into the heart of Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Every team has to overcome obstacles to win a title. Manning's path to another championship just got a lot harder, but he still has the offense to pull it off.