The Denver Broncos got off to a surprising 6-0 start under rookie coach Josh McDaniels in 2009 and people were calling McDaniels a mini-Bill Belichick. But then Kyle Orton remembered he was Kyle Orton and the Broncos started playing more to the level of their overall talent, winning just two more games the rest of the year to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs yet again.
So in an effort to improve, the Broncos did two fairly illogical things this offseason: They traded their best player, all-pro receiver Brandon Marshall, and traded up in the NFL Draft to take Florida QB Tim Tebow – despite having Orton on the roster and having traded for a still-green Brady Quinn – even though most consider Tebow a project who will take at least a few seasons to develop as a quarterback if he ever does. (As an aside, this was a great marketing ploy as Tebow’s jersey is already the No. 1 seller in the league.)
The Marshall trade, just like the Jay Cutler trade the year before, had nothing to do with talent but everything to do with attitude. The Broncos didn’t want to give him a new, lucrative long-term extension because he had some off-field issues and the fact the team suspended him during camp last year and for the regular-season finale. Still, Marshall caught 101 passes for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, including an NFL-record 21 in a loss at Indianapolis. Jabar Gaffney is expected to take Marshall’s spot opposite Eddie Royal, although 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas will eventually be a starter.
Tebow might get on the field occasionally in a Wildcat-type package but if he’s starting by Week 8 (Orton will start when the season opens) then the Broncos’ season is basically already over. Additionally, Denver might have some major concerns along the offensive line. All-pro left tackle Ryan Clady underwent surgery this spring for a torn left patellar tendon he suffered while playing basketball. He hopes to return by Week 1, but there is certainly no guarantee of that. Clady allowed the fewest sacks among tackles as a rookie in 2008 and last year became the 11th tackle to earn Pro Bowl honors in his second season. Starting guard Russ Hochstein is also coming off a torn ACL but is expected to be ready for camp.
Denver’s defense took a giant leap forward last year, finishing a surprising seventh overall. But the team welcomed its fifth defensive coordinator in five years with Don Martindale’s promotion from linebackers coach, replacing Mike Nolan. Let’s see if linebacker Elvis Dumervil matches his 17-sack 2009 season now that he has a fat new contract. This unit could take a step back because eight of the expected starters are at least 30.
The football picks list Denver’s ‘over/under’ for NFL season win totals at 7.5. Let’s break down the 2010 Denver Broncos schedule (all times Eastern):
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Indianapolis, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, NY Jets, 4:05 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at San Francisco, 1:00 PM (London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Kansas City, 4:05 PM
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 22, at San Diego, 8:30 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, St. Louis, 4:15 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Oakland, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, Houston, 4:05 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, San Diego, 4:15 PM
This is ranked as the ninth-easiest schedule in the NFL, with an opponents’ 2009 winning percentage of .484 (124-132). The first thing I notice here is that five of Denver’s six AFC West games come after the bye and that the Broncos don’t face the division favorite Chargers until practically Thanksgiving, which will affect the football betting lines.
Denver certainly opens with two winnable games against the Jaguars and Seahawks, two non-playoff teams from a year ago. The Broncos have won their past three season openers, but have opened as a 1.5-point underdog vs. the Jags on WagerWeb. It’s the sixth year in a row Denver opens on the road. Jacksonville is one of those teams that could be 10-6 or 6-10.
The Broncos almost need to win the first two because they could easily lose the next four and certainly will be dogs in three of them (maybe not at home vs. the Jets). The game with the Colts marks the 11th year in a row that Denver will play a team that was in the previous year’s Super Bowl. After that tough stretch, the Broncos should be able to handle Oakland at home before the disruptive trip across the pond against a good 49ers team. Those who do the NFL Handicapping should call it 3-5 entering the bye.
The schedule is much, much easier after the off week with only two playoff teams among that bunch (Chargers, Cardinals). That Week 13-15 stretch is the first time since 1997 that Denver plays three consecutive road games. The team’s lone Monday nighter against the Bolts makes it 19 years in a row Denver is featured on MNF, the longest active streak in the league. San Diego swept Denver last year, totaling 83 points.
I am not a big Denver fan with that aging defense and the fact that McDaniels is just itching to get Tebow in there. While Orton is usually tremendous in home games, he’s average at best in road games. I would go ‘under’ the WagerWeb total because this looks like a 7-9 team at best.