Let's take a look back: It's the end of the 2008 season. Mike Shanahan fired. Jay Cutler traded for Kyle Orton and picks. A defense in shambles, having allowed 28 points per game.
Brandon Marshall wanting to be traded and suspended during a portion of the pre-season. 2009 looking like a major rebuilding effort for rookie coach Josh McDaniels.
Fast forward to the end of September. Broncos are 3-0. Orton is playing mistake-free football. Offensive line protecting Orton and creating gaps for the running game as well as ever.
Defense has allowed a total of 16 points over three games, stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Any Denver fan couldn't be happier after a 3-0 start and an early division lead in the AFC West.
As McDaniels and crew will readily admit, there is still much work to do. The schedule does not lie.
The Broncos will face a decidedly stiffer slate of competition in the coming weeks, with stouter offenses and defenses to contend with.
Can Denver's offense, minus a prolific passing game, be balanced enough to hang with the big boys? Can its defense, against better offenses than the anemic Browns and Raiders, continue to impose its will?
Prior to its Week 7 bye, Denver faces Dallas and New England at home, before visiting San Diego for a Monday Night contest. All playoff-quality teams with potentially explosive offenses.
Coming out of the bye, the Broncos pay a visit to the suddenly dynamic Baltimore Ravens, followed by a home date with Pittsburgh.
For Denver to entertain playoff hopes, it must come out of that stretch with at least two wins, probably three. That would leave the Broncos at 5-3 or 6-2.
With two games remaining with Kansas City, and a home date with Oakland, eight or nine wins would be nearly a certainty assuming no letdowns.
They'd then need a couple of wins in the other second-half games (at Washington, Indy and Philly, home for San Diego and the Giants).
No guarantees, since this team has not been severely tested, and has not shown a penchant for second-half surges in recent years.
Nevertheless, an optimistic outlook heading into October is certainly not what many experts saw coming out of the Mile High City, after a dismal 2008 season and winter of gloom and doom prognostications.
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