As a longtime Denver Broncos fan, I tend to look at the team through orange (and blue) tinted glasses.
I like to take a glass half full instead of half empty approach with the team.
For 14 years, it seemed a given the Broncos would win around nine games, and I always figured that they would finish at, or near, the top of the AFC West and in contention to make the playoffs.
While they might not be the best team in the NFL, they would provide entertainment and would be competitive.
Yet, this year, it grows increasingly harder to look at this team as anything other than a rebuilding project.
Based on the preseason, it doesn’t appear that we can truly judge what kind of team this group will be.
Due to all the changes that took place during the offseason, I do not believe they will be in contention for the playoffs, and they might finish at the bottom of the AFC West, possibly near the bottom of the entire AFC.
My prediction is that they go 4-12, fail to make the playoffs, and give Seattle a very nice top 10 pick in the draft next year.
Don’t get me wrong though; going 4-12 shouldn’t be considered a “bad” thing.
My way of thinking is that they could finish with a worse record but still be a better team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Now, allow me to run down a couple of reasons why I believe the team will have a less than stellar year.
Reason One: The Schedule
Denver finished second in the AFC West in 2008.
After watching the team collapse down the stretch last season, it is unfortunate that they couldn’t have been just a little worse.
They did just enough to get themselves to a record of 8-8 and what can be best described, at least on paper, as a who’s who of murderers' row opponents in 2009.
The first three games look winnable.
Following the week three matchup with Oakland, the going gets tough.
At least on paper, that schedule is the definition of brutal.
Of course, anything can happen on any given Sunday. But it is going to be tough.
Don’t forget that the Broncos struggled in the AFC West last season and lost a game to each of the other teams within their division.
This season has the makings of a being very long and difficult to watch, Broncos fans.
Reason Two: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
Everything has been changed for the Broncos this year.
The defense moved away from the 4-3 that they typically ran under Mike Shanahan and have adopted a new 3-4 scheme. During the preseason, it appeared to be a stroke of genius as the defense finished the exhibition portion of the year ranked seventh.
I know, nothing in the preseason means anything, but it gives us hope.
They might not be a top 10 defensive team during the regular season, but they will certainly be better than they have been in recent years.
They got bigger along the defensive front, with all three of the down linemen tipping the scales at over 300 pounds.
But the weak link of the defense remains the defensive line.
The linebackers are going to be expected to put pressure on opposing offense, and they will likely be up to the task.
Elvis Dumervil is the team's most accomplished and consistent pass rusher, but he cannot do it all. They need someone else to step up so the opposing offense cannot just game plan away from Dumervil like Chicago did in the second half of their preseason matchup.
They have to hope that the front seven can create just enough pressure to buy Denver's world-class secondary time to make a play.
On top of changing things on the defensive side, coach Josh McDaniels has put in an entirely new offensive system, rebuilding the offense from the ground up.
First, he changed the blocking scheme, which many people wouldn’t notice. Denver is keeping elements of the zone blocking scheme they ran under Coach Shanahan but are moving towards more of a man blocking scheme.
McDaniels seemed to be very conservative during the preseason, running a very basic version of his offense. Because of this, the growing pains are going to be plentiful. The offensive system Coach McDaniels runs is said to be one of the most difficult to master in the entire National Football League.
Maybe that is why the offense seemed stuck in neutral throughout the preseason.
Players who played under Shanahan or in another system are going to need some time to grasp all elements and learn what their roles will be in the new schemes.
Maybe that is why McDaniels keeps grabbing players off the New England scrap heap. Or maybe he doesn’t trust the players he inherited and doesn’t believe they can play here now. Or possibly, as rumored, he has a divided locker room, and bringing New England players in is the only way McDaniels can have a voice or gain control.
I have never seen a more polarizing figure in Broncos Country than McDaniels.
It seems that Broncos fans either love him or hate him, like there isn’t a lot of middle ground on the subject. Not all of us have to like him, and no one should question another fan’s loyalty just because he or she doesn’t like McDaniels. He is here, at least temporarily, so get used to it and learn to live with him.
Too many of the elements of the Broncos' season make the prognosis look very bleak.
They have a brutal schedule, a first time head coach, changes throughout the organization, the possibility of a locker room divided, and so much more. Put it all together, and anything more than four wins would be an accomplishment.
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