1. Peyton Manning was supposed to be finished. Four neck surgeries will do that to a quarterback. But Manning has proved again that he has never been an ordinary player, taking over in Denver after Indianapolis opted to rebuild with Andrew Luck. Meanwhile, all the supposedly washed-up Manning has done is add to his future hall of fame resume with another MVP-caliber season — leading the Broncos to an 11-3 mark with 31 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. While Manning has lost some of his arm strength and has resorted to shorter passes, his trademark accuracy is as deadly as it’s ever been.
2. The Broncos have won nine consecutive games and have already clinched the AFC West Division title, but don’t expect them to take it easy on the visiting Browns. There’s more work to do. Denver is still looking to lock up the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that accompanies it.
3. The Browns lost strong safety T.J. Ward (bruised knee) and rookie strongside linebacker James-Michael Johnson (groin) during last week’s game, each landing on injured reserve Tuesday. That means Usama Young will start as strong safety in place of Ward and rookie Eric Hagg will move into Young’s role as free safety. Meanwhile, rookie Craig Robertson will continue to play linebacker alongside veteran D’Qwell Jackson in the nickel package. Rookie Tank Carder is likely to receive playing time in the base defense in place of Johnson. Because the Browns cut veteran Dimiti Patterson on Monday, second-year player Buster Skrine will become the cornerback in the nickel package.
4. Last week’s embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins dashed any hopes that the Browns could sneak into the playoffs. But there’s still plenty for the young team to play for today against Denver and next week at Pittsburgh. Players old and young are looking to finish strong. The last two weeks of the season are akin to final auditions in front of the new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.
5. Connections abound in this game, beginning with Broncos safety Mike Adams, who played for the Browns for five seasons (2007-11). … Broncos kicker Matt Prater is a Mayfield Heights native. … Broncos tackle Orlando Franklin and Browns receiver Travis Benjamin were teammates at the University of Miami for three seasons (2008-10). Browns quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple was the Hurricanes offensive coordinator for two of those years (2009-10). … Broncos defensive tackle Mitch Unrein spent the 2008 and ’09 seasons with Browns defensive back Tashaun Gibson at Wyoming. … Broncos receiver Andre Caldwell and Browns defensive back Joe Haden were teammates at Florida in 2007. … Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers and punter Britton Colquitt played with Browns running back Montario Hardesty for four seasons (2005-08) at Tennessee.