After easily one of the most eventful offseasons in recent NFL history, the Denver Broncos are a team in turmoil. Longtime head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, franchise quarterback Jay Cutler was shipped to Chicago, and Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall no longer wants to be a Bronco.
I don’t think new head coach Josh McDaniels could have had a rougher start to his head coaching career.
Even so, the Broncos are ready to start their 2009 campaign. They may be without Shanahan, Cutler, and possibly Marshall, but they will be ready to play nonetheless.
Now, since the beginning of training camp, analysts, pundits, and fans alike have beaten to death the same predictions for the season: "The defense will continue to struggle," or "Brandon Marshall won’t play for the Broncos again," or "Kyle Orton will struggle as the starter."
I am here to share my predictions for the season—predictions that don’t follow the conventional wisdom on the Broncos right now.
Here are eight bold predictions for the Broncos' 2009 season.
Brandon Marshall Will Play, and He Will Play Well
Brandon Marshall and the Denver Broncos have had a lot of problems with each other this offseason. Marshall did not like seeing Cutler get shipped out of town, has shown a lot of unhappiness with his contract, and was even suspended for the rest of the preseason. He was also recently quoted as saying he "wants a fresh start," with a team other than the Broncos, obviously.
However, provided McDaniels lets him play, he will absolutely play for the Broncos this season—and he will play very well.
Why? Because Marshall is not stupid. If Marshall ever wants to play for another team or get a new contract, his only choice is to play well this season. If he sits out this season or doesn’t play well, no team will give up what the Broncos are asking for him, and the Broncos will never pay him what he wants.
Marshall wants a new team and a new contract. The only way for him to do this is to show he deserves it with his play on the field.
Kyle Orton Will Finish with 3,300-Plus Passing Yards and 20-Plus Touchdowns
Many people have been down on Kyle Orton’s prospects as a starting NFL QB, but he has been a winner in his career, going 21-12 as a starter for an offensively challenged Chicago Bears team.
Now that Orton has inherited the league’s No. 2 offense, he should substantially improve on his career averages of 2,450 yards and 14 touchdowns as a full season starter.
In Chicago, Orton played in a run-oriented offense and was always surrounded by lackluster receivers. In Denver, he will be playing in McDaniels' Patriot-style offense, where Orton will throw a lot more passes than he has ever thrown in an NFL season.
On top of that, he will have weapons such as Eddie Royal, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokley, and Jabar Gaffney, as well as a slew of playmaking running backs.
With all that in mind, it is very easy to see Orton topping the 3,300-yard mark, as well as the 20-touchdown mark. He threw for 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns in 15 games last season, and seeing as the Broncos will rely on him to throw the ball well and often, these numbers should be very attainable.
Eddie Royal Will Finish Top Three in Receptions
Eddie Royal had a great rookie season last year, and he will only improve his numbers this season. He was relatively unheralded as a receiver coming out of Virginia Tech, but he surprised everyone in the NFL, leading all rookies in receptions and yards.
Royal also finished seventh in receptions in the NFL with 91, a number expected to go up this year. With McDaniels now the coach in Denver, Royal will fall into the role played by Wes Welker in New England, where he will be relied upon to be Orton’s go-to guy, getting open on all sorts of underneath, crossing, and screen routes.
He may only have around 1,100 receiving yards, but he should be a sure bet for 100-plus catches. Expect him to be neck and neck with Welker and Andre Johnson for the receptions lead by the end of the season.
Knowshon Moreno Will Win Rookie of the Year
Knowshon Moreno has had a less than stellar preseason. After being picked 12th overall by the Broncos, he missed the first eight days of camp during a contract holdout, and then, after showing flashes of brilliance in the first preseason game, he sprained his MCL and has not played since.
But once the season begins, expect all that to change. When he was picked No. 12 to a team that finished second in total offense and 29th in total defense, McDaniels was questioned for the move. So Moreno needs to play this season, and you can expect that he will be given plenty of opportunities to carry the ball.
When he does carry the ball, expect him to have a Chris Johnson-type impact on the Broncos game. Peyton Hillis and LaMont Jordan will handle the goal-line carries, but Moreno should be a monster between the 20s.
The Broncos Will Finish in the Top 20 in Total Defense
After finishing 29th in total defense last season, the Broncos had a lot of work to do to improve their porous defense. Outside of signing Brian Dawkins, however, the Broncos did not make any marquee additions to their defense.
What they did do, though, is sign a slew of solid and consistent, if not flashy players, who will help the defense immensely and lead Denver into the top 20 in total defense.
On the defensive line, the Broncos added Darrell Reid, Ronald Fields, and Ryan McBean and re-signed Kenny Peterson. None of these players are flashy, big-name guys, but they should, along with returning linemen Marcus Thomas, Carlton Powell, and Nic Clemons, provide new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with a lot of bodies he can rotate along the defensive line.
At linebacker, the Broncos added Andra Davis and Robert Ayers, as well as moved Elvis Dumervil, Jarvis Moss, and Tim Crowder back to linebacker. Combined with D.J. Williams and Wesley Woodyard, the Broncos should have a solid group of middle linebackers and an explosive, if inexperienced, group of outside linebackers.
In the secondary, the Broncos, along with Dawkins, added Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill, as well as Darcel McBath, Alphonso Smith, and David Bruton through the draft.
Goodman should be a big upgrade over the departed Dre' Bly, and Hill will provide consistency at safety. Dawkins will become the emotional leader the Broncos have lacked since Al Wilson, and McBath, Smith, and Bruton will provide depth and youth in the secondary.
The Broncos have a long ways to go until they again have one of the better defenses in the league, but as of right now they have done a lot to improve themselves and should be able to be a top 20 defense this year.
Elvis Dumervil Will Record a Career High in Sacks
With Denver switching in part to a 3-4 defensive system, Dumervil will be moving from defensive end to outside linebacker, a role he should thrive in. After recording 12.5 sacks in 2007, his numbers dropped dramatically last season, as he totaled only five.
As a smallish defensive end, he spent most of his time in the three-point stance, being forced to take on tackles much larger than he was. Now, Dumervil will move back a couple of feet to outside linebacker, which will give him a running start at the quarterback, giving him more sack opportunities.
Expect Mike Nolan to use Dumervil the way the Cowboys use DeMarcus Ware—as an outside rush linebacker, whose main purpose is to hit the quarterback. If the Broncos do this with Dumervil, expect him to record a new career high in sacks.
Denver Will Win as Many or More Games than the Chicago Bears
Much has been said about the Bears this offseason, most of it surrounding the addition of Jay Cutler, with good reason. Many people are predicting they will be the NFC North winner this season.
However, outside of Cutler, the Bears have made no other substantial improvements to their 26th-ranked offense and 21st-ranked defense. While they do have RB Matt Forte on offense, they lack consistent receiver production, and their defense is aging and inconsistent.
On top of that, their schedule is much more difficult than most people realize, as they have seven games against 2008 playoff teams, including Arizona, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, as well as three games against the much improved Packers and Seahawks.
If the Bears can sprinkle in a few wins against some of the stronger teams in the league, they could make a run at the North, but more realistically, they should finish around the 8-8 or 9-7 mark.
The Broncos Finish .500 or Better, Place Second in the AFC West
If you listen to any NFL "expert," they will all tell you how much the Broncos will struggle this season. Maybe it’s the die-hard fan in me, but I don’t buy that. Kyle Orton is obviously no Jay Cutler, but the talented receivers the Broncos will line up around him will make him better, as will the stable of talented running backs the Broncos have at their disposal.
If you add to that mix the fact that the Broncos' defense should (hopefully) be better than it was a season ago, the Broncos could conceivably win eight or nine games this season.
Let’s go through it game by game:
The Broncos should start 3-0, as they should be able to beat Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Oakland. In their next eight games, the Broncos face Dallas, New England, San Diego (twice), Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the New York Giants. I see the Broncos splitting the series with San Diego and beating both the Cowboys and Redskins.
So, after 11 games, the Broncos are 6-5.
In the final five games, the Broncos face Kansas City (twice), Indianapolis, Oakland, and Philadelphia. They should beat the Chiefs twice, as well as the Raiders. That gives them a 9-7 record on the season, which should be good enough for second place in the West.
Those are my bold predictions for this season. Some predictions everyone may agree with. Some predictions may be seen as outlandish. And some people may just think I’m stupid.
Leave me some comments and let me know what you think.