Rick Osentoski, File
January 06, 2016

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos should start Brock Osweiler for the playoffs.

Their best chance to go on a Super Bowl run is with the man coach Gary Kubiak benched Sunday, even though he acknowledged Osweiler had done nothing to deserve the demotion.

Peyton Manning came in and sparked Denver to a 27-20 win over the Chargers that secured the top seed in the AFC playoffs. He should return to a relief role, ready at the first sign of trouble to start warming up again.

And Osweiler should return to the starting lineup for the eighth consecutive time when the Broncos (12-4) take the field on Jan. 17 for a divisional round matchup against the Chiefs, Texans or Steelers.

Although the maestro was at his magnificent best in putting the Broncos in the right plays at the right time Sunday, Manning was just 5 of 9 for 69 yards - and this against a team that was as stunned to see him trot onto the field as the millions of fans who were watching on TV.

Just wait for a team that's been waiting for Manning. An opponent that's been preparing for the five-time MVP who turns 40 six weeks after Super Bowl 50. That team will be ready for the QB who nearly led the league in interceptions - 17 - despite missing nearly half the season with a left foot injury.

Manning had the worst season of his spectacular career, setting career lows in nearly every category. Osweiler proved his mettle as a calm, cool quarterback who was unflappable in the face of dropped passes, fumbles and errant kicks - although he admittedly needs to work on escaping edge rushers and eluding the blitz.

Manning might have the playoff pedigree, but he also has an NFL record nine first-round exits in the postseason. Plus, he's not as nimble as he once was - which wasn't very snappy to begin with.

Osweiler, on the other hand, can make any throw or play in Kubiak's playbook: bootlegs, sprint-outs, rollouts, play-action passes.

And the fourth-year pro is no novice, either.

''Brock's had literally the best seat in the house to be able to learn,'' said Joe Theismann.

Osweiler's teammates rallied around him for two months. They'll be eager to atone for their mistakes after their fumbling and bumbling led to Osweiler's benching Sunday, which was akin to a hockey coach pulling his goaltender because everyone around him stunk.

Sure, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined for a season-best 212 yards rushing against the Chargers, but Manning completed just one pass longer than 15 yards.

In the playoffs, opponents will bring up their safeties, knowing Manning can't beat them deep or outside the numbers. That will clog up the running lanes and bog down this offense like it was bottled-necked over the first half of the season.

With Osweiler, Kubiak has his full menu of plays available, not just an appetizer of shotgun snaps and quick throws.

Osweiler was better than Manning in every meaningful statistical category save for sacks.

It wasn't until the Broncos trailed 22-0 against the Chiefs on Nov. 15 that Kubiak pulled his five-time MVP. Kubiak said there's no way he'd wait that long this time if his starter struggles again.

''The great thing about it is it's taken everybody on our team to get to this point - everybody - and it's going to take everybody we have the rest of the way,'' Kubiak said.

Go with Osweiler. Have Manning ready in relief.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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