Broncos won’t be able to slow San Diego

My fantasy football team, Mr. J’s Junk, has been in first place throughout the season.

My fantasy basketball team: same name, same spot on top.

The Colorado Avs have held onto the top spot in the NHL Northwest since the first puck was dropped.

The Denver Nuggets are now among pro basketball’s elite and have been on top in the NBA’s Northwest since opening tipoff.

And the Denver Broncos have been in first place in the AFC West since Day One.

It’s a dream scenario for area sports fans, one we certainly hope continues. And why not?

There is no reason to think my fantasy teams are going to fade. The Avalanche will show enough grit throughout the season to remain a factor, and George Karl’s Nuggets will be one of the teams battling for homecourt edge throughout the playoffs.

The likely clunker?

Josh McDaniels’ Broncos. After a 6-0 start, it’s been three losses in a row — all of them ugly — and there will be no end to that losing skid today.

Weaknesses have been exposed on the team that was the darling of the NFL for the first month and a half.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers showed that if you blitz early and often, Denver’s passing offense will resort to 2 yards and a cloud of dust. And the Ravens and Steelers showed superior physical talent up front to stop Denver’s draw rushing attack cold.

The Washington Redskins — despite having only one win previously — showed you could move the ball against the Broncos in the passing game if you have enough patience to move 5 or 6 yards at a time. And, oh yes, the ‘Skins also managed to run off huge chunks late in the game when Denver’s defense was worn out.

In the second half, with Bronco QB Kyle Orton on the sideline with a sprained left ankle that has him questionable for today, Denver could not stop the ‘Skins. Quarterback Jason Campbell, maybe the second-most booed person in Washington behind coach Jim Zorn, was 9 for 9 in the half. And Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright, two fellows who will never be on my fantasy football team, ran for 114 combined yards in the half.

The Broncos could not stop this offensive juggernaut and with Chris Simms turning in a miserable 3-for-13, 13 yard performance in the second half in relief of Orton, the Broncos turned a 17-14 halftime lead into a 27-17 loss.

The losses to the Ravens and Steelers were perhaps understandable. Not the one to the Redskins. That was inexcusable and likely costly to the max.

And now, just like a broken record, here come the Chargers.

Less than a month ago, Denver was 6-0 and the Chargers 2-3. No NFL team has ever had a 31⁄2-game division lead and not made the playoffs.

Of course, no team ever held a three-game lead in a division with three games to play and lose out on the playoffs until last year. Then, along came Denver.

Now, both teams are 6-3 and the Chargers are winners of four straight, including the past two over the Giants in New York and the Eagles at home.

Charger QB Philip Rivers has been right up there with Peyton and Tom and Drew when it comes to the cream of the NFL quarterback crop, wide receiver Vincent Jackson is being touted as a midseason All-Pro and — just what Denver needs — tailback LaDainian Tomlinson finally kicked into gear last week with 96 rushing yards and two TDs.

You think the Broncos are going to win this one with a hobbled Orton or an inaccurate Simms?

I don’t think so.

Last week I was taking a break from the pressure of picking with or against Denver (actually on a trip to D.C.), but I’ll admit right here I would have missed it, which would put me at 7-2 on the season.

If I’m honest — and I certainly am on occasion — I just can’t figure a way for the Broncos to win this one.

If Orton plays, he’ll be slowed and easy fodder for Shawne Merriman & Co. If Simms plays, he’ll have to suddenly become the reincarnation of his father and that would take an act of God.

I think the bloom has indeed fallen from the rose. That — combined with the fact that the Broncos embarrassed the Chargers the last time they met, which should have the Chargers focused — should give the visiting squad from San Diego all the tools they need.

I’m going to make this one ugly: San Diego 34, Denver 17.


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