Changes in Denver jolt to fans

The National Football League landscape is like my front yard: green a couple of days ago, yellow today, surely white in the not-too-distant future.

Injuries, illnesses and upsets have left fans reeling. It’s almost too much to keep up with.

Almost, but not quite.

John Fox is down and out as Denver Bronco head coach for the foreseeable future as a heart problem has forced a midseason surgery. Jack Del Rio is in as interim head coach. When and if Fox returns this season is in the hands of someone or something much more powerful than you ‘n’ me.

The Broncos now face the task of changing job descriptions in their planning department as they prepare for what we have already pointed out as the nastiest four-game stretch of the season: Sunday at San Diego against the Chargers, then at home against the still-unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs, on the road against the improving New England Patriots, and on the road against those same Chiefs.

All together now: Pass protection for Peyton, please!

The Broncos, however, certainly aren’t the only team to suffer of late.

Houston, expected to be an AFC power, is only 2-6 after losing starters on both sides of the line and having starting running back Arian Foster and quarterback Matt Schaub in and out of the lineup.  And to top it off, their head coach Gary Kubiak, was carted off to the hospital Sunday at halftime with has been called a mini-stroke. He was released from the hospital Tuesday, but, like Fox, his return to the sideline is well down the road.

Just when Indianapolis was kicking it into high gear, down goes star wide receiver Reggie Wayne to a knee injury, and quarterback Andrew Luck loses his go-to guy.

The Cincinnati Bengals, just starting to raise eyebrows as a legitimate AFC title threat, lost their best player, defensive lineman Geno Atkins, maybe the most disruptive lineman in the league.

Both of those players are out for the season, and both losses take those teams down a notch when it comes to winning it all.

In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons have been relegated to the role of weekly underdog because of injuries to their two star wide receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White.

The New Orleans Saints have lost most of a deep stable of running backs, including little spark plug Darren Sproles, who was injured Sunday.

The San Francisco 49ers have had to make do without their top receiving threat, Michael Crabtree, throughout the season, and the Seattle Seahawks, who had maybe the biggest free-agent coup of the offseason in signing wide receiver Percy Harvin, have not had him step on the field yet because of a bad hip.

Injuries are everywhere, and you can bet they will simply multiply as the season heads into the second half.

As for the upsets, look no further than Thursday’s 22-20 win by the Miami Dolphins over the Bengals on a safety in overtime.

That one created a big change in the AFC playoff picture, as did a 26-20 win by the New York Jets over the Saints on Sunday.

If the playoffs were to start today, Kansas City would still have the No. 1 seed in the AFC with its 9-0 record and game-and-a-half lead over the Broncos in the AFC West.

The second seed and other possessor of the bye would be the 7-2 Patriots, who rang up 55 points against the Steelers on Sunday. Don’t look now, but ...

The two wild-card games in the AFC would have the third-seeded Colts, now 6-2, hosting the 5-4 Jets and the fourth-seeded 6-3 Bengals (they are at the top of the AFC North by two games despite their loss to the Dolphins) hosting the 7-1 Broncos.

If the seeds were to stay the same and the likely favorites to win in the first round, Denver would beat the Bengals, then face another playoff game in Kansas City in the second round.

The NFC playoffs have 8-1 Seattle and 6-2 New Orleans with byes.

Green Bay was third-seeded in the NFC prior to Monday’s loss, but a tiebreaker would have them out of the playoffs. They are one of four NFC teams at 5-3.

Carolina is the sixth seed at 5-3 thanks to its 2-0 divisional record (the other 5-3 teams are all 2-1 in divisional play) and would travel to third-seeded Detroit.

Fourth-seeded Dallas would host fifth-seeded San Francisco in the other wild-card game.

Yes, things are changing rapidly in the NFL.

And the real fireworks haven’t even started yet.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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