If the Denver Broncos would have judged themselves by their record after the first five games, they may not hold the enviable position they do now.
It's part of the reason they're not paying attention to the Cleveland Browns' current mark, either.
Denver can move closer to earning a first-round bye in the playoffs Sunday by extending its winning streak to 10 with a victory over the visiting Cleveland Browns, who have dropped nine straight meetings.
The Broncos fell to 2-3 after a 31-21 loss Oct. 7 at New England as Peyton Manning struggled to adapt to his new team. Denver (11-3) has since reeled off nine straight wins - its longest streak since the 1998 Super Bowl team won its first 13 - and clinched the AFC West with Manning rising to third in the NFL with 31 touchdown passes and fourth with a 103.5 rating.
Manning didn't need to do much, though, in last week's 34-17 rout in Baltimore, throwing for a season-low 204 yards - 133 to Eric Decker, including a touchdown - while handing it off a career-most 45 times.
Knowshon Moreno followed his 119-yard performance versus Oakland on Dec. 6 by rushing for 118 and a touchdown.
"Our goal is to try to get better every week," Manning said. "I feel like we probably have in some areas. You're still looking to play that perfect 60-minute game, and that's your goal every week."
The defense, which ranks fourth giving up 307.1 yards per game, had another solid contest, holding the Ravens to 56 rushing yards and scoring a touchdown on Chris Harris' 98-yard interception return.
"I always thought if we kept getting better, there was no way we couldn't be one of the top teams," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "It was just a matter of keeping your nose down, not worrying about your record, keep working and everything will take care of itself."
The Broncos can secure a bye into the divisional round by beating Cleveland (5-9) and woeful Kansas City to close out the regular season, though coach John Fox refuses to look ahead.
"Right now, I know we can control our own destiny, but if we don't play our best game against Cleveland this week, that will be all for naught," Fox said.
Including the postseason, Denver has won 20 of the last 22 meetings versus a Browns team coming off a 38-21 loss to Washington last week that ended a three-game winning streak.
"They're 3-0 versus our division," Fox said. "They've won three out of the last four games. They've got good players. I've said all year long, we don't look at teams' records. We look at the tape, and (the Browns are) very capable."
Trent Richardson is 103 rushing yards shy of 1,000 and is coming off his second straight two-touchdown performance. The rookie, though, was critical of Browns coach Pat Shurmur and the play calling after carrying only 11 times for 28 yards.
Shurmur took the comments in stride and said Richardson mainly was frustrated with the loss.
"I'm not upset with him," Shurmur said. "I did talk to him. I asked what he meant by what he said. I explained to him that when we're all in a state of disappointment because we lost, it is important to keep our focus and, No. 1, regroup and get ready to play the next game."
Cleveland has undergone plenty of changes this season with a new front office under new owner Jimmy Haslam, who hired former Dallas senior vice president Alec Scheiner to be the team's president Tuesday.
No changes have been made under center, though, as Shurmur continues to stick through the growing pains of rookie Brandon Weeden. The 29-year-old first-round pick went 21 for 35 for 244 yards and a touchdown last week, but he also threw two interceptions that led to Washington scores.
Weeden has 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in starting each contest, and Shurmur hasn't eluded to making a change at the position despite Cleveland's offense ranking 26th with 319.6 yards per game.
"I'm not saying you never go to the backup quarterback," Shurmur said. "But I didn't consider it (Sunday)."
Moreno rushed for 75 yards as the Broncos won 27-6 in the most recent meeting Sept. 20, 2009.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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