Win or lose, 2011 has been good for Broncos

Let’s review.

It’s late August and the Denver Broncos are counting down the remaining days of training camp.

Quarterback Kyle Orton has been sensational throughout, as have the tight end and wide receiving corps. Knowshon Moreno has strutted his stuff, mostly as a receiver out of the backfield.

The first-string defensive unit, playing roughly half of the time in preseason, has also impressed even though defensive end Elvis Dumervil has shown almost nothing but rust and rookie linebacker Von Miller has frustrated coaches because he has no clue where to go next.

Despite the preseason underachieving of Dumervil and Miller, the Broncos finish the preseason on an optimistic note under first-year head coach John Fox and first-year Exec VP of Football Operations John Elway.

Then comes the regular season.

Orton is terrible through five games, with the team going 1-4.

Moreno gets hurt — again — handing the rushing reins to a retread from Buffalo via Baltimore, Willis McGahee.

Fox and Elway finally make THE decision, pulling Orton and inserting second-year man Tim Tebow, in essence dumping the short passing game for the short running game.

The world as we have known it has suddenly become vastly different, surely never to be the same again.

Here we are, four months and a new year later.

And the playoffs start a week early for the Broncos with only everything riding on the outcome of this regular-season finale at New Mile High.

The opponent, of course, is last year’s AFC West champion, the Kansas City Chiefs, now officially deposed and, for the time being at least, being led by the afore-mentioned Orton, who was claimed off waivers from Denver a month ago.

Win this one and the Bronco season will continue with their first visit to the playoffs since 2005. They will host either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens in a wild-card playoff contest next weekend.

Lose today and it’s scoreboard-watching time, hoping the San Diego Chargers can beat the Oakland Raiders. If the confounding Chargers — and virtually everyone on that team is fodder for the unemployment line — can beat the Raiders, the Broncos are in regardless of what happens in Denver today.

However, a Denver loss and a Raider win means it’s time to start thinking next season.

No matter the outcome today, we can’t lose sight of what we have seen:

Dumervil is headed back to the Pro Bowl, much of that because he has returned to his old pass-rushing form in the second half of the season.

Miller is on his way to becoming one of the most dominant linebackers in the game and, oh yes, on his way to the Pro Bowl as well — as is old reliable standby Champ Bailey.

Several others should be there, including placekicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt, Eddie Royal as a kick returner and maybe McGahee, who has shown there is plenty of life in his legs.

There is, of course, also the Tebow thing. He has grabbed the attention of the masses and is a second alternate to the Pro Bowl.

Let us all remember what we have witnessed here, a season that started with hopes going down in flames only to have that hope rekindled.

Every Bronco player, coach, administrator and fan would gladly have taken this situation today, with hope springing eternal thanks to floppy passes, daring runs, a smattering of good luck and the occasional big play from Tebow and his more unheralded mates.

While the jury is still very much out on Elway, Fox, Tebow and the rest of the Bronco roster, let us remember this is likely only the start of something that will indeed become very big.

As for today, there is no way the Broncos lose this game.

Orton was benched and released for a reason — no, make that many reasons.

He was a sitting duck in the pocket who couldn’t come up with touchdowns when he had driven his team into the red zone.

He was ridden with interceptions, bad decision after bad decision because of the pressure being applied.

Nothing has changed just because he moved east a few miles. Why would things be any different today with a hostile crowd bearing down on him — not to mention Dumervil and Miller?

Champ Bailey held Kansas City ace receiver Dwayne Bowe to a zero-catch game last year and certainly will be attached to his hip all day today.

The Chiefs can’t run the ball and Orton will be in the fetal position on his back early and often.

I’m 8-7 on the season picking with or against the Broncos and say this one gets salted away early; Denver wins it 27-14.

Then it’s off to the real playoffs on a high note.


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