Rick Jussel: Broncos fans have reason to celebrate despite awful season

The good news just keeps coming for the Denver Broncos.

Reason No. 1 to smile: If the Broncos lose their last two games, they will be guaranteed one of the first two picks in the upcoming NFL draft.

The news could get even better if Carolina wins one more to finish with three wins and Denver doesn’t blow this opportunity by winning at home today against a struggling Houston team. If that would happen, the Broncos would end up with the top pick on the basis of a tiebreaker.

Then the Broncos would have a serious question to address: Do they take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — the consensus No. 1 pick (didn’t Denver do OK with another Stanford QB?) — or do they take the best defensive player available and address a huge hole on the defensive line by taking Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers?

Much of what the Broncos decide will depend on whether Tim Tebow impresses enough in his brief three-game audition as starting quarterback to warrant passing on Luck.

Also certain to be looked at with such a prized draft pick will be the trade-down scenario. Is the No. 1 or 2 pick what is needed, or do you swap it for more picks and move down in the draft because there is a ton of defensive line talent available?

Also available down the line to the Broncos will be the best nose tackle, Nick Fairley of Georgia and another super pass-rushing defensive end in Marcell Darius of Alabama, both likely top-10 picks, according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper.

Matter of fact, of Kiper’s top 19 available picks, eight are defensive linemen or linebackers with pass-rushing skills — something Denver brass, whoever that might be, will have to consider.

Reason No. 2 to smile is the 2011 schedule.

If you’re one of those “The glass is half-full” types, you smile because the Broncos have already clinched last place in the AFC West, meaning they will play games next season against the last-place finisher in the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals (at home), and against the last-place finisher from the AFC South, the Texans (on the road).

The Broncos’ schedule, of course, also will feature two games each against their AFC West brethren, the Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers, all of whom have proven they can be beaten by most other NFL squads if not by the Broncos themselves.

Also on the schedule next season will be Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota, all of whom will finish below .500 this season, and Miami, which will likely finish 8-8 or worse.

Yes, those portions of the schedule next season could lead to optimism.

The other side, “The glass is half-empty” portion? They also play New England, the Jets and the Bears — although those are all at home if that means anything. And, they play Green Bay on the road.

Reason No. 3 to smile is still in the making, but that former Stanford quarterback who did OK as a player in Denver is going to be a part of all the decision making detailed above.

Yes, John Elway will be on board after the regular season ends and will have a yet-undetermined amount of say-so.

His longtime buddy, Gary Kubiak, is in Denver today as coach of the Texans and, while still employed, may be available as Bronco head coach when the season ends. You can bet if Elway is in on the decision, Kubiak will be considered.

Another veteran coach reportedly under fire is Jeff Fisher of the Titans, the longest-tenured coach in the league with one team.

You tell me, wouldn’t either of those two look better on the Denver sideline than the recently departed?

Reason No. 4 to smile is today’s tilt against the Texans. The Broncos have a gimmee loss in hand next week at home against the Chargers and won’t blow their draft possibilities today. The Texans, although challenged defensively, simply have too much offense for Denver’s terrible defense to contend with.

Matt Schaub is throwing for 300 yards or more with regularity late in the season and Arian Foster is the top ground gainer in the league.

I’ll take my 7-7 record picking with or against the Broncos and say the Texans win it 28-24, with Tebow continuing to improve, but still not consistent enough to get the Broncos to that 30-point plateau on the scoreboard.

There you have it Bronco fans, four reasons to smile going into the new year.


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