Jussel: It’s all about the finish, not the start for Broncos

Fax failures, injuries, suspensions, oh my!

Feeling a bit down as the Denver Broncos prepare for a third preseason contest, this one tonight at home against the St. Louis Rams?

I am here to provide hope.

Despite sprains, surgeries, disciplinary measures and departures, the Bronco season is going to be about the end, not the beginning.

Think back to last season when Denver started 2-3 thanks to a miserable schedule that included losses to powerhouses Atlanta, Houston and New England. Think back to a 24-0 deficit at the end of the first half in the sixth game on the road against the Chargers.

The light went on at halftime of that game, with Peyton Manning coming back to go 13 of 14 for 167 yards and three TDs and defensive backs Chris Harris and Tony Carter each returning a Philip Rivers pick for touchdowns.

From there, it was a bye week, a romp at home over a defenseless New Orleans team and 10 more wins in a row. That made it 13-3 in the regular season and a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

I know, I know. Things didn’t work out exactly as hoped, but the point is Denver didn’t start off well last season, and they don’t have to start out on fire this season.

According to CBSSports.com’s NFL power rating, the Broncos are the top-ranked NFL squad at this juncture even though the same site predicts Cincinnati’s Bengals will upset the Broncos and go on to win the Super Bowl.

Being ranked No. 1 is nice, but what is important to note about the power rankings is the next-highest-rated AFC West team is the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 24. The Chargers are rated just 27th, and Oakland’s Raiders are rated dead last at No. 32.

NFL.com, for the most part, agrees that other than the Broncos, the West stinks. The Chargers are ranked 19th, the Chiefs 28th and the Raiders again last at 32.

In other words, the Broncos simply need to reverse polarities and pull off something similar to what the New York Giants did two seasons ago and Baltimore’s Ravens did last season. Both of those teams barely qualified for the playoffs, then went supersonic for a month when it was most needed. The Giants were only 7-7 two seasons ago before winning their final two regular-season games and waltzing through the playoffs, while the Ravens lost four of their final five games last season before going on their victory march.

We know losing star linebacker Von Miller will impact Denver’s defense the first six weeks.

We also know defensive lineman Derek Wolfe has been hurt, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley just had surgery on a wrist, star corner Champ Bailey has a foot sprain, and the other starting corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, hasn’t seen preseason action yet because of an ankle sprain.

Tough sledding, eh?

Here’s the bright side: Imagine how deep the Broncos are going to be later in the season because of the experiences gained by players like linebackers Wesley Woodyard, Dan Trevathan, Nate Irving and Shaun Phillips and defensive linemen Sylvester Williams, Terrance Knighton, Malik Jackson and Quanterus Smith, all of whom are in new positions or new to the team.

By the end of the season, Denver’s defense with Miller again creating havoc and that bundle of young and/or new players firmly entrenched in the Bronco way of doing things, it should be hunky-dory time.

A couple other reasons to smile:

First, have you looked at the games Denver plays during Miller’s six-game sentence? First, four of those are at home — Baltimore, Oakland, Philadelphia and Jacksonville. They also play in New York against the Giants and in Dallas against the Cowboys.

If Manning is standing, there is no way they lose more than three of those games, more than likely winning at least four, Miller time or not.

And, lest you have forgotten, think back to all of those games Manning won with the Colts while at Indianapolis. He had very little in the way of a running game and there was — save for two really good pass-rushing defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis — a mediocre-at-best defense.

Manning is maybe better than ever, and he has a receiving corps that may be unprecedented.

The Broncos, without Von Miller, are a team nobody wants to play now.

The Broncos, with Von Miller and a bundle of young buddies who have learned their craft well, will be a team nobody will be able to match up with.

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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