The Denver Broncos utilized a stout defense and stellar game from quarterback Peyton Manning, as they cruised to their tenth consecutive win, a 34-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Manning fueled a strong first half for the Broncos, connecting with Demaryius Thomas on a 22-yard touchdown pass early in the first quarter, and added a 10-yard strike to Eric Decker early in the second to give Denver a 14-3 lead at intermission.
The 15-year veteran added a third touchdown pass with 4:39 to play in the third quarter, connecting with wide receiver Eric Decker on an eight-yard pass, Decker's second on the day. Matt Prater hit a 27-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter to extend the Broncos lead to 18, and after a muffed catch on a punt by Josh Cribbs, the Broncos capitalized and scored on a one-yard run by Jacob Hester to take a 31-6 lead.
The Browns (5-10) couldn't muster much offense at all against a stingy Broncos defense, and were limited to total yards on the day. Cleveland's lone touchdown on the day came after losing starting quarterback Brandon Weeden to a right shoulder injury after he was sacked by Broncos linebacker Von Miller in the third quarter. Backup signal caller Colt McCoy entered the game and connected on a six-yard touchdown pass to Greg Little with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter to pull the Browns to within 19 points, but that would be as close as the Browns could get.
The Broncos (12-3) got some much-needed assistance on Sunday afternoon, as the Minnesota Vikings upset the Houston Texans 23-6, enabling Denver to clinch a tie for the top spot in the AFC playoff race with a win over the Browns. The win also secured John Fox's squad a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Fantasy studs and duds
Manning continued to be a fantasy force throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns on the day. Thomas led all Broncos receivers with nine catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Decker added six catches for 65 yards and two scores.
Browns running back Trent Richardson was held without a touchdown for the first time in four weeks and finished with just nine carries for 53 yards.
The extent of Weeden's shoulder injury is not known at this time, but it was apparently serious enough to shelve him for a good portion of the fourth quarter.
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown left the game with a head injury following a collision with Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley, and Denver cornerback Tracy Porter left with a concussion in the first quarter.
Did they cover?
The Broncos were 11-point favorites according to most sportsbooks and had little trouble covering the spread.
12/30 - 1 p.m. ET* - Cleveland at Pittsburgh
12/30 - 4:25 p.m. ET - Denver vs. Kansas City
*-Time subject to change