Jussel: After a tough stretch, Denver due for victory over Raiders

I’m heartbroken.

You’re heartbroken.

We’re all heartbroken.

Get over it. I have.

The Denver Broncos lost 24-20 to the New York Jets last week, the result of a late pass interference call (that was indeed the correct call) that handed the Jets a touchdown, and a bad snap from center that kept the Broncos from having a chance at a winning score with just seconds left.

Denver, which fell to 2-4 on the season, outplayed the Jets the entire game. Still, it’s best to be ahead at the end than at any other time in the game, right?

It hurt, this loss to a squad that improved to 5-1 and stands at the top of every NFL power poll in existence.

But it also showed us something that we were starting to hope for but afraid to bank too heavily on: This Bronco squad is improving.

True, Baltimore bombed the Broncos the week before, but that was in Baltimore and the Ravens bomb everyone in Baltimore.

And, true, the Broncos lost at home to the Colts a couple of weeks previous, but that was, after all, Peyton Manning who was in the house.

Also true, Bronco foes in the first six games of the season — as I predicted before the season started – are a combined 22-11, not one with a losing record.

Denver has lost to Jacksonville (3-2) on the road, beat Seattle (3-2) at home, lost to Indy (4-2) at home, beat Tennessee (3-2) on the road, then lost to Baltimore (4-2) and the Jets (5-1).

The Broncos have been bent, folded and mutilated, especially on the defensive side with starters going down in a wide variety of ways, many of them for extended periods of time. The offensive line and the running back corps have been banged up, but are now relatively healthy.

Kyle Orton has been Pro Bowl caliber at quarterback, as has Ryan Clady (again) at left tackle and wide receiving surprise standout Brandon Lloyd.

If coach Josh McDaniel and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale can continue to piece together a defense that is at worst mediocre, the silver lining is about to shine through.

Check this out:

Today the Broncos host the 2-4 Raiders.

Then they play in London against the 1-5 49ers.

After that, it’s at home against the resurgent 3-2 Chiefs, at San Diego (shockingly 2-4), at home against 3-3 St. Louis, at Kansas City (in early, not late December), at quarterback-challenged Arizona (3-2), and at Oakland. They finish at home against Houston (4-2) and San Diego.

Those teams to this point have a combined record of 18-22, far from what the Broncos have seen thus far.

I’m not suggesting Denver will waltz through these teams; quite the contrary. We all remember home losses last season to the Raiders and Chiefs when both of those teams were scuffling.

St. Louis has improved dramatically, as has Houston. The Chargers, we all know, will not finish with a losing record.

Still …

The Broncos have a chance, a legitimate chance, to win any of these 10 games.

Prior to the start of the season, I said they would finish 8-8. That would mean they win six of their remaining 10 games. Win seven of those and they would be a legitimate AFC West title contender and playoff possibility.

Forget about the wild card. That won’t happen with the other AFC divisions featuring a gaggle of teams that will finish 10-6, maybe even 11-5 and not sniff a division title.

Although it’s not the official start of the second half of Denver’s season, in reality, it is the part of the season in which the Broncos can — and should —make hay.

I’ve dropped to 3-3 on the season picking with or against Denver, having upset thoughts against both Baltimore and New York that didn’t pan out.

Oakland is in town today, having won two straight contests at New Mile High. Last season, the Bronco s allowed the much-maligned and since-waived JaMarcus Russell to march the Raiders down the field and score with 35 second lefts for a 20-19 win. In that one, Denver allowed the Raiders to rush for 241 yards. Ouch!

The Raiders are no longer chopped liver, but Denver is not facing one of the NFL’s best defenses as they have in three of the past four weeks.

Tim Tebow will throw his first NFL touchdown pass, Orton will again hit the 300-yard passing mark and the Raiders won’t rush for half of that 241-yard total.

Denver 26, Oakland 17.


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