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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) When things weren't clicking at the beginning of the season, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos spent most of their time looking at the film and working out the kinks on the practice field - and very little time focusing on the standings.

The work is paying off, and if they bothered to look at those standings Monday, they would've liked what they saw.

After their runaway win over Baltimore and New England's loss to San Francisco, the Broncos are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and only need victories at home over Cleveland and Kansas City, combined record 7-21, to wrap up a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Eight of the 10 AFC teams to make the Super Bowl under the current playoff format have had a first-round bye.

``I always thought if we kept getting better, there was no way we couldn't be one of the top teams,'' Broncos 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.''

During their nine-game winning streak - longest since they won the first 13 games of the 1998 Super Bowl season - the Broncos (11-3) have steadily gotten better.

One of the issues was how they would fare against a winning team, the likes of which they faced only twice over the first eight wins of the streak. The trip to Baltimore, against a struggling Ravens team, but still a team that has qualified for the playoffs with a 9-5 record, was considered their biggest litmus test before the playoffs begin.

They passed it and didn't even need Manning at his very best to do so.

The Broncos quarterback threw for 204 yards, his lowest output of the season.

But the Broncos were so good everywhere else - rushing for 163 yards, creating two turnovers and returning one for a touchdown, milking the clock in the fourth quarter with a 9:59 drive - they didn't need Manning to do much more than hand off.

In fact, Manning handed the ball off 45 times Sunday, the most in his career.

``Our goal is to try to get better every week,'' he 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.''

After Week 5, a 31-21 loss at New England that dropped Denver to 2-3, nobody was mistaking Manning or the Broncos for perfect.

Still getting used to his new offense and his new teammates, Manning was struggling. He threw a career-high 26 incompletions in a loss to Houston and had the three first-quarter interceptions in a loss to Atlanta.

There were still questions about his arm strength, and others about whether he would get used to playing at full speed again.

Manning brushed off most of the criticism, bristled at some of it and, mostly, kept believing that more time with his teammates would solve many of the problems.

Since Week 6, when the winning streak began, the Broncos have averaged 386 yards a game (sixth in the NFL) and scored 30.4 points (second), while allowing 291 yards (second) and 17.8 points (third).

``I knew we had a really good team,'' receiver Brandon Stokley said. ``A lot of people on the outside wanted to push the panic button. But for us, it was just about improving every week. We were a relatively young team with the system we put in, and just getting better, knowing that good things could happen if we kept working hard, that's what we've done.''

Even with the victory over the Ravens, the question remains: How will the Broncos fare against the league's elite? Their only three losses came to Atlanta (12-2), Houston (12-2) and New England (10-4) and Denver hasn't faced a team of that caliber since.

The fact that the Broncos would face a possible rematch with the Patriots at home could give the Broncos a supposed advantage in a series in which they've lost their three meetings in the John Fox era by a combined score of 117-54.

Two of those games, including last year's 45-10 playoff loss (with Tim Tebow at quarterback), were in New England.

But ask any of the Broncos about the path to the Super Bowl that is clearer than it was two days, to say nothing of nine games, ago and, well, you mainly get the trademark blank stare and the pat answer.

``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,'' coach John Fox said.

Notes: Fox did not list RB Knowshon Moreno on the injury report, though Moreno could be seen on the sideline during the fourth quarter with trainers looking at his back. ... Fox downplayed a tweet from CB Tracy Porter, who has expressed his dissatisfaction about the lack of playing time after losing his job to Chris Harris. ``He just needs to focus on getting better every day,'' Fox said. ``I saw good improvement last week.'' Porter, who has been cleared to play after dealing with health issues, hasn't played since Oct. 7. ... Fox said KR/PR Trindon Holliday would still be the returner even though he has fumbled four times since signing with the Broncos in October. He has also scored two touchdowns.

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Baltimore Ravens players have a very manly Bachelorette watch party

Baltimore Ravens players have a very manly Bachelorette watch party

You don't have to be a chick to enjoy watching the Bachelorette.

Several Ravens' players proved this when they came together at tight end Dennis Pitta's house Monday night to have a very manly Bachelorette series premiere watch party. Players included kicker Justin Tucker and QB Joe Flacco.

Justin Tucker wasn't too happy though with Pitta's screen size. 

This wasn't the first time the guys got together to watch the Bachelorette . Last June during JoJo Fletcher's season, the squad got together to watch an episode where the Bachelorette and her suitors visited their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Will the guys spend the off-season continuing to watch who gets the final rose? 

MORE RAVENS:FORMER RAVENS SAFETY ARRESTED ON GRAND THEFT AND BATTERY CHARGES

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Former Ravens safety arrested again, this time on grand theft, battery charges

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Former Ravens safety arrested again, this time on grand theft, battery charges

Ex-Ravens safety Matt Elam was arrested for the second time in less than three months after an altercation with his girlfriend at her home in Delray Beach, Fla.

Police say Elam was arrested on grand theft and domestic battery charges after a fight broke out between the two around 4 a.m. Monday.

The former Florida Gators star — who was selected by the Ravens with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, came to the residence to retrieve his car, but fled on foot with his girlfriend's cell phone after she wouldn't give him any money, according to TMZ, which first broke the story.

Elam could face up to five years in prison under Florida law which lists grand theft of more than $300 a third degree felony, according to USA Today.

The 25-year-old was arrested in February for possession over 120 grams of marijuana and 3 grams of oxycodone, after which the Ravens announced their plans for the future did not include Elam.

Elam is currently being held on a $4,500 bond at the Palm Beach County jail.