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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Broncos Stampede Rivals to Top NFL

DENVER -- Any way you measure it, the Denver Broncos are the best team in the National Football League right now.

After what happened last season, that's the last thing they want to hear.

They established their status by routing New England 34-13 Monday night in the game between the league's last two unbeaten teams. They're 6-0 and are outscoring opponents 32-14. They've also beaten the defending AFC champions, the Patriots, by an aggregate of 105-24 in three games over the last three seasons.

But they also know what happened last year, when they started 12-1, clinched home field in the AFC and relaxed for the last three games. The result: a loss to Jacksonville, a second-year expansion team, in their first playoff game, allowing New England to go to the Super Bowl.

So the party line, pounded into the troops by coach Mike Shanahan, is that nothing that happens now is very important.

"We all know what happened last year," says running back Terrell Davis, who may be the best player in the NFL right now. "What you really want to do is peak in the 15th or 16th week."

Still, it doesn't hurt to be good early, either.

This particular edition of the Broncos is clearly better than any of the three teams that went to the Super Bowl in the late '80s, losing by 18 points to the Giants, 32 points to the Redskins and 46 to the 49ers.

That was John Elway and 44 other guys.

This one was put together to give Elway, 37, his final shot at the elusive ring and allow him, when need be, to be part of a supporting cast. That's what he was Monday night -- no more than the fourth-most important player behind Davis (32 carries for 171 yards), linebacker John Mobley (a 13-yard interception return for a touchdown, 13 tackles and a forced fumble) and Rod Smith (five catches, two of them spectacular, for 130 yards.)

In the past, when Elway had the kind of game he did Monday night -- 13 of 27 for 197 yards, no TD passes and two interceptions -- the Broncos usually lost.

This time, they beat the defending AFC champion by 21 points and Elway could talk about Smith.

Yes, it's early. But this really is Elway's chance, and the Broncos are the most realistic hope the AFC has of breaking its Super Bowl losing streak, now at 13 years, since the 1990 Bills lost to the Giants by a point in the title game. Right now, no one in the NFC is playing well enough to beat them, except perhaps San Francisco.