Get the ticket orders ready. Warm up the printer. Start circling some weekend dates in early January.
For the second consecutive season, the Broncos can make plans to play a home playoff game. The Broncos not only defeated miserably fading San Diego, 30-23, Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, they buried the Chargers' hopes of contending for the division title.
The AFC West is all but clinched after the Broncos (7-3) took a three-game lead — plus a head-to-head tiebreaker that essentially gives them a four-game lead — against the second-place Chargers (4-6) with six to play.
"We have to put our blinders on," said Broncos middle linebacker Keith Brooking. "Because it's easy to believe the hype.
Photos: Broncos vs. Chargers
For posterity sake, only one player got credit for the victory here on an unusually warm mid-November afternoon in Colorado. That was Peyton Manning. He threw three touchdown passes, although for the second consecutive week, it can be argued Manning and his offense were outplayed by the Broncos' defense and special teams.
Von Miller is fast becoming the NFL's most dominant defensive player since Ray Lewis in his prime, yet the Broncos' strongside linebacker and seemingly unblockable pass rusher is not the biggest star on his team.
Only quarterbacks have a won-loss record placed alongside their name, so Manning got credit for win No. 148 in his regular-season career, tying him for No. 2 all-time.
The quarterback Manning just tied? John Elway. Talk about a tie where both parties win. Elway is a Broncos quarterback legend whose legacy as a front-office executive is tied to Manning. As Manning succeeds, so does Elway as the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations.
"I want him to
It wasn't exactly fitting that Manning tied his boss on a day in which he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and took a safety to account for the Chargers' first nine points.
Then again, did Elway always play stellar in victory?
"Oh no," Elway said. "A win's a win. The good thing is the expectations are now up."
It was a strange offensive performance in that the Broncos had four, three-and-outs and surrendered two scores. They also had scoring drives of five, three, one and three plays.
"The way they were playing defense, it was hit or miss," Elway said. "They brought a lot of pressure, a lot of blitzes, a lot of man to man. You play against that kind of defense, it's not always going to look choreographed. They're going to get theirs because they took a lot of risks. The key is to get ours. And Peyton got his share."
As the Broncos built a 24-9 lead midway through the third quarter, a blocked punt by Denver's Nate Irving set up one Manning touchdown pass, an interception by Wesley Woodyard set up a field goal and a sack and forced fumble by Miller set up another Manning throw for a score.
That's 17 of 24 points aided by units other than the one Manning commands. And on the one sustained offensive drive for a touchdown, Broncos running back Willis McGahee did most of the work before Demaryius Thomas tapped both toes down while snagging a 13-yard touchdown from Manning.
"It's great when everybody produces, but offensively we know we're playing with fire as far as our third-down production and turning the ball over," Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen said. "There's going to be a time when that bites you. We've got to fix it. Luckily we're winning games while we're doing this."
McGahee didn't finish as he left early with a knee injury. But Manning and the Miller-led defense are Denver's finishers, anyway.
In terms of personal statistics, Manning can take aim at Brett Favre, who is No. 1 in wins (186) and touchdown passes (508). Manning is alone in second place with 423 career touchdown passes and a win next week in Kansas City would put him clear of Elway for No. 2 in regular-season victories.
"I've said it before John Elway was one of my favorites growing up. He still is one of my favorite quarterbacks," Manning said. "I feel honored to be part of the same organization that he is part of."
Before Manning can get anywhere near matching Elway's five Super Bowl appearances and two world championships as a Broncos quarterback, he must first reach the playoffs.
Consider that first step pretty well taken. So who was the better quarterback, Manning or Elway?
Elway's face lit up.
"That's why you have your job," he said with a laugh.