Colts’ return of Pagano could propel Broncos to No. 1 seed

Chuck Pagano, who grew up in Boulder under the watchful eye of father Sam, the legendary former Fairview High School coach, is coming back to work just in time to give the Denver Broncos a huge lift.

No, the younger Pagano doesn’t work for the Broncos.

Instead, he is in his first year as coach of the Indianapolis Colts. But he hasn’t coached a game since late September, spending most of the this season battling a form of leukemia.

Today, after a week filled with tears, cheers, hoopla, handshakes and hugs, Pagano will return to the sideline to lead the 10-5, playoff-bound Colts.

There is absolutely no player nor coach who would choose to take on the fired-up Colts today.

Hello Houston; we’ve got a problem.

The Texans are that unlucky team, having to make the trip to Indy and needing a win to clinch the top seed in the AFC. A Houston loss, combined with Denver and New England wins today, would drop the Texans all the way to the third seed.

If Pagano’s Colts can beat Houston, and Denver can continue to pay attention to the task at hand at home and beat the 2-13 Chiefs, the Broncos are the AFC’s top seed.

Unlikely scenario a couple of weeks ago, borderline lock today.

Houston has lost two of its past three games. Three weeks ago, New England pounded the Texans 42-14. Two weeks ago, the Texans nipped the Colts 29-17 in Houston (a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a fumble at the Houston 1-yard line contributed mightily). And last week, the Texans were pounded 23-6 at home by the Vikings.

Bronco fans, there is hope. The Colts will win in their domicile, while the Broncos will not stumble at New Mile High.

All of which will lead to Denver and the Patriots earning the top two seeds in the AFC and first-round playoff byes.

Third-seeded Houston will host sixth-seeded Cincinnati in one of the wild-card games and fourth-seeded Baltimore will host fifth-seeded Indy.

We will see two upsets in the wildcard games, with Cincy and Indy winning.

That means the Patriots will host Indy, and Denver will host Cincy in the second round.

That means Denver will host the Patriots, not in the second round as originally planned but in the AFC Championship Game.

Of course, all of this can fall apart as any number of seams could break open, starting today if the Broncos can’t slow the Chiefs running game in what will reportedly be the last game for Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli.

Think back to the last time these two teams played: Nov. 25 in Kansas City.

The Chiefs gave Denver its roughest game in the past 10, with the Broncos leading only 7-6 at the half before winning 17-9.

It was ugly to the max. It will be again today. It is Kansas City’s only hope of winning: Play defense, use the clock with the run, get a turnover or two and hope for the best.

Last week at home against the Colts, the Chiefs ran the ball. And ran the ball. And ran the ball.

They ran 44 times for 353 yards in losing 20-13 to the Colts, the most rushing yards ever by a losing team in an NFL game. Jamaal Charles ran for 226 and now has almost 1,500 rushing yards on the year. Former Bronco Peyton Hillis added another 102.

All told, the Chiefs gained 503 yards in the game. Yikes!

Not to worry, Denver.

That is who the Chiefs are: 503 yards of offense and 13 points.

Brady Quinn is at the controls for the Chiefs, and he will not beat you in the air. He will mess up at frequent intervals.

He was 10 of 22 for 162 yards against the Colts with two INTs, one of those taken back for a touchdown. The first game against the Broncos, he was 12 of 25 for 116 yards with one interception. His 60.8 passer rating ranks 43rd in the league, and he took over the starting job a month ago from Matt Cassel, who had been even worse. Think the Chiefs may try to find a QB prior to the start of next season?

Denver will win this one relatively easily. I’ll take my 12-3 record picking with or against the Broncos and say it’s low scoring, Denver winning it 24-14.

Then it will be time to take a breath, heal a few wounds and watch videos.

The Broncos will spend plenty of time preparing for the five squads they may have to face. Now, it’s just a matter of who comes when.

And a matter of cheering loudly today for Pagano and his Colts, who play an early game.

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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