Jussel: Broncos set up to be more than best in the West

Bits ‘n’ pieces ...

The exit polls are starting to form a clear picture: The 6-3 Denver Broncos are going to win the AFC West — and they’re going to be a force in the upcoming playoffs.

The first notion, that they will win the West, stems from one seemingly unavoidable fact: The 4-5 San Diego Chargers, Denver’s closest and really only competition, are not very good.

Oh, sure, they have a decent quarterback in Philip Rivers, who is capable of putting up big numbers in the passing game. But their defense is terrible. They have no wide receivers that scare you.

The Chargers do have a tight end in Antonio Gates who is decent in the red zone, but now rates as maybe the 15th or 20th best in the league and is old and beat up.

And they have a decent running back in Ryan Mathews, but he, like Gates, is always hurt and, in those brief stretches in which he is healthy, he never gets the ball.

The Chargers, quite simply, have never recovered from LaDainian Tomlinson’s aging and have never replaced two other free agents they let get away: the scary Darren Sproles (a real Bronco killer in his day) and monstrous wideout Vincent Jackson.

It certainly doesn’t hurt Bronco Nation at this point that beleaguered head coach Norv Turner is still around and surely on his last legs as Charger coach.

As for the second part of our exit-poll reaction, the Broncos have played many of the best teams in football this season.

They have defeated Pittsburgh, lost to Atlanta, New England and Houston. They also pounded a New Orleans team that has won four of five and just handed Atlanta its first loss of the season.

If Denver is to become a playoff force, they are going to have to mess with the likes of Pittsburgh, New England and/or Houston to advance to the Super Bowl.

There is no team in that list that the Broncos as constituted cannot compete with and, with a decent all-around effort like those we have seen the last several weeks on the road, defeat.

Bet on Ducks to win it all

With Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, the college football scenario suddenly changed big time. So much for discussion about how many NFL teams the Bama boys could beat (the answer always being zero).

Now, with the new-fangled BCS playoff not set to open until after the 2014 regular season, the chase for the 2012-13 champion will come down to three teams that try to stay unbeaten: Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame always makes a good story, but is third-rated behind K-State and the Ducks and needs one of those two teams to stumble to have a shot in what still amounts to a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game.

For the record, Notre Dame has games remaining against Wake Forest and at Southern Cal.

K-State plays at Baylor, then hosts Texas.

And Oregon has Stanford and closes at Oregon State.

All three have opponents left that could throw another wrench into the mix, with Oregon facing the toughest two-team parlay.

But in my mind, Oregon is the best of the three and the most likely national champ.

Nuggets need
shooting turnaround

The Denver Nuggets got off to a nasty 0-3 start on the road before putting together a four-game win streak, with two of those coming on the road. They are 4-4 after losing in Phoenix on Monday.

The decent start comes in spite of being The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. They are playing decent defense, allowing only 96 points per game, and leading the league in rebounding.

Second-year man Kenneth Faried, despite a terrible opening two games, has been a monster of late, averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds over his past five games.

What has to happen for this team to contend in the West is for two of its best offensive players, Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, to step up as shooters. Lawson is shooting only 40 percent on the season, and Gallinari is third-grade-like at 31 percent.

The team’s big offseason acquisition, Andre Iguodala, hasn’t been much better at 42 percent.

As a team, the Nuggets are shooting only 42 percent, with an abysmal 30 percent from 3-point land. By way of comparison, the Clippers lead the league in shooting at 49 percent and Dallas leads in 3-point shooting at 45 percent.

Hot time in Hotchkiss

Weekend tip: Got nothing going on Saturday? Try Cedaredge at Hotchkiss at 1 p.m. in the state Class 1A football semifinals. The 10-1 Bruins nipped Hotchkiss 21-20 on Sept. 28 in Hotchkiss.

The Bruins only loss on the year was in the season opener to Class 3A Eagle Valley.

Hotchkiss (9-2) lost its only other game to another 1A semifinalist, Buena Vista, 18-15.

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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