It’s bye week, time to buy into this group of Denver Broncos
It’s Bye Week, time to take stock. Let’s buy in.
We don’t need four more years. What we need is 10 more weeks followed by a bonus month.
The Denver Broncos, despite the nastiest schedule this side of Hades, are in first place in the AFC West at 3-3. And they face teams the remainder of the season that have a combined record of 18-32. Only one team, Baltimore, has a winning record (5-1) amongst Denver’s remaining foes.
The San Diego Chargers, despite a schedule that has been more Southwestern League than National Football League to this point, are also 3-3, but they trail the Broncos in the tiebreaker race and will get their comeuppance with games at Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the Jets among others.
As for the rest of the AFC West, the Chiefs and the Raiders? See above (two wins between them).
So, it’s all over but the shouting for the Broncos, right?
Er, not quite. Next week is a good example of what the team is going to have to deal with the rest of the way. They play the beleaguered Saints, a team that is trying to stay afloat despite having no coach and a defense that does its best to imitate a sieve.
But, and this is huge, the Saints still have Drew Brees at quarterback, little Darren Sproles to run, catch, return punts and kickoffs, and other parts of an offense that can light it up. While they have won just the one game (over the Chargers), they are still scary, quite capable of putting up 30-plus points against anyone, including the Broncos.
It is, however, at New Mile High, where the Denver fellas are starting to sprout a bit of an attitude.
Denver should be favorites in eight of its 10 remaining games, underdogs on the road only against Cincinnati and Baltimore. That should put them on track to at least 10 wins and another AFC West crown ...
... As long as Peyton Manning remains upright.
Manning, in case you haven’t been paying attention, has thrown for more than 300 yards in his past three games and is on pace to have his best passing season in terms of yardage, somewhere in the 5,000-yard neighborhood.
He has thrown for 1,808 yards and 14 touchdowns with a passer rating of 105, all of those among the best totals in the league. And he is getting better with each game with his new teammates.
Oh yes, those teammates ...
The offensive line lost starting center J.D. Walton to an ankle injury for the season. No problem: In steps Dan Koppen (a brilliant late free-agent pickup, by the way) and everything moves along smoothly. And that came after starting guard Chris Kuper missed the first part of the season from an injury late last season. Manny Ramirez stepped in for him without missing a beat the first five games before Kuper returned last week.
Receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley have been superb, with Thomas and Decker both on track for 1,000-yard seasons and possibly 100 catches each. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen have caught 40 passes between them.
As for rushing, Willis McGahee will have another 1,100 to 1,200 yards, and rookie Ronnie Hillman is starting to contribute, going so far as to pick up a couple of blitzing linebackers last week in crucial situations, one reason young running backs don’t play much in Manning-led no-huddle offenses.
Defensively, the Broncos showed much improvement in slowing San Diego on key third downs Monday night, something that had killed them earlier.
Von Miller at outside linebacker is on his way to All-Pro honors and maybe one of those 16- or 17-sack seasons. He has six sacks so far.
Elvis Dumervil has re-entered the building, has five sacks and came up with a couple of brilliant plays in key situations Monday night against Phillip Rivers and the Chargers, literally changing the complexion of the game. Dumervil has forced four fumbles.
Rookie defensive lineman Derek Wolfe has three sacks and is being used to apply pressure at a variety of spots all across the line, and veteran Kevin Vickerson has been a force the last several games.
Champ Bailey is still one of the best on his cornerback island, and several of his young teammates have stepped up in the secondary, as have veteran safeties Mike Adams and Jim Leonhard.
It is a team that is getting better as it goes along.
There have been bumps, but consistency has been the goal, and the road should smooth out from here on out.
Not all games will be as exciting as Monday’s win over San Diego, but from where I sit, the playoffs will be at hand. And, as we saw last year with the New York Giants, once that tournament starts, anything can happen.
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.