There’s still some hope this season for Denver

Let the McBronco Era begin.

For better or for worse, today in Cincinnati.

Tune in.  It’s way too early to tune out.

Bronco fans have spent the better part of six months worrying, wondering and certainly wavering in their belief — assuming, of course, they have kept the faith for the past several years while wallowing in mediocrity.

Here’s the deal folks — and let’s get this out on the table and keep it there at least until the next couple of games are history — no one, not you, not I, not brash young coach
Josh McDaniels ­— knows what to expect out of this team at this point in its evolution.

Virtually every sports pundit in the country has predicted something akin to Detroit’s 0-16 last season. My own personal selection is 6-10. The reason for that isn’t so much lack of talent as brutal schedule.  I just can’t find reason enough for Denver to beat the Chargers once in two tries, sweep either the Raiders or Chiefs, or beat any of the NFC East thugs they have to play, or Pittsburgh, New England, Indy or Baltimore.

My belief is that this McBronco edition is a middle-of-the-road NFL squad playing a schedule that just happens to border on insane.

There is, however, hope.

In looking at that same brutal schedule, there is a remote chance that the Broncos could start the season red hot — maybe as hot as 4-0.

Check this out:

The Broncos play today against the Bengals, a team that finished 4-11-1 last season. And although they are on the road, there is certainly a chance to win — a much better chance than, say, playing on the road against Baltimore or Philadelphia.

Denver then hosts Cleveland (4-12 last year), travels to Oakland (5-11 last year), then returns home to play against a Dallas team that lost star Terrell Owens and has been a hotbed of rampant speculation that Mike Shanahan will be their new head coach next season — a situation that doesn’t exactly bode well for Wade Phillips and his current Cowboy squad.

It’s one of those things that just does not compute:  The McBroncos at 4-0 going into the fifth week when they play host to Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, McDaniels’ former boss and former team.

Could Denver find a way to open the season 5-0?

Yes, fairy tales do happen.

Most of them, however, happened long, long ago in a place far, far away.

Today, the Broncos open the season with a huge question mark at quarterback; their best offensive threat, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, coming off a suspension and still very much unsure of what role he has in the new offense; and a defense that has been totally revamped going up against one of the league’s top pure passers in Carson Palmer.

McDaniels’ personal favorite at quarterback, Kyle Orton, may or may not play. If he plays, he may or may not be forced to wear a glove on his passing hand. Not exactly the perfect scenario.

McDaniels’ second choice at quarterback, Chris Simms, is coming off your basic two-year hiatus thanks to an injury to his spleen and a preseason sprained ankle that severely curtailed his practice time in a new system. Again, not exactly the perfect scenario.

One of those two is going to have to find a way for the Broncos to score in the neighborhood of 24 points to beat the Bengals. McDaniels’ team never scored that many in preseason and I don’t expect that to happen today.

Instead — and this certainly may be the case all season long — the defense will have to pick up the slack.

That did happen in preseason for the most part.

I liked Denver’s ability to pressure the passer during preseason, especially on first and second down. I was a bit disappointed in the way they pressured in obvious passing situations and there will be plenty of those today with the Bengals not a serious running threat. Cedric Benson is their No. 1 tailback and he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry last year.

I’m going to say the Broncos, a 41/2-point underdog, score 20 points today, getting two TDs and two field goals.

Unfortunately, despite vast improvement by the defense over last year’s fiasco, the Bengals will find a way to score 23, getting two TDs and three field goals.

That’s the way Denver starts the season — respectable on the road, but not quite explosive or consistent enough on offense.

Bengals 23, Broncos 20.

Not quite a fairy tale start to the McBronco Era.


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