Denver Broncos' Remaining AFC West Games Will Make or Break Season

Jesse SchafferCorrespondent INovember 30, 2009

DENVER - NOVEMBER 26:  D.J. Williams #55 of the Denver Broncos reacts after sacking quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 26, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Giants 26-6.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

We are 11 games into the NFL season and the Broncos still haven't figured out if they are Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.

They get crushed in their own backyard by the Chargers only to bounce back on four days rest and roll against the Giants. It seems that they can't decide whether they are playoff contenders or pretenders. Maybe they just love driving their fans crazy.

Certain people, myself included, thought Kyle Orton wasn't anything special at quarterback, yet the Broncos passing game completely fell apart when he was out with an ankle injury. We were sure the offensive line was one of the league's best, only to see the protection break down when Ryan Harris got hurt and Ben Hamilton become a shell of his former self.

Oh well, at least no one on the team has suffered a concussion yet (knock on wood).

One thing I've learned to expect from the maddeningly inconsistent Broncos is to never know what to expect. I have no idea how their season will finish out and you're lying through your teeth if you think otherwise.

At 7-4, the Broncos are a game behind the Chargers in the division. They'll chase them as valiantly as Wile E. Coyote chases the Road Runner. The problem with that is Wile E. never catches the Road Runner, he just gets mangled and embarrassed.

Looks like a fourth straight division title goes to San Diego, and yet they still have issues with local television blackouts. Why does no one go to see that team play?

On the other hand, Denver is at the top of the wild card race and Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Houston, and Miami all lost yesterday. However, the way things are shaping up a 9-7 finish probably won't be enough to make the playoffs, so the Broncos have to find a way to prevail in at least three of their five remaining games, which are at Kansas City, at Indianapolis, vs. Oakland, at Philadelphia, and vs. Kansas City.

No matter how bad the Chiefs are, Arrowhead Stadium has never been a kind place to the Broncos. Not to John Elway and certainly not to Mike Shanahan. The place is like a Broncos torture chamber.

However, it hasn't exactly been a banner year for the Chiefs, and Orton and Co. has been through enough adversity. I say they gut it out and Josh McDaniels finds out just how hard it is to win in Kansas City.

If Arrowhead Stadium has been Denver's torture chamber, then Peyton Manning has been their executioner. You may think that title belongs to Phillip Rivers, but Eli's big brother started owning them before Rivers was even drafted.

Since 2003, Manning is 4-2 against the Broncos (the Colts starters played only the first quarter in one of those losses) and has thrown 15 touchdowns to only one interception. In that span, Indy has outscored Denver 193 to 149. Oh yeah, and the Colts are 11-0 so far this season.

Still think the Broncos are going to win that game? Neither do I.

Assuming that Manning doesn't kill the whole team before they board the plane, it's back to Denver for a showdown with the pitiful Raiders. I would feel really good about this game if those same pitiful Raiders hadn't stunned the Broncos at home last season.

However, its a well known scientific fact that the only thing that doesn't strike twice in the same place other than lightening is a Raiders victory. Wait for it, wait for it...Well, I had to get my cheap shot against Oakland in here somewhere. Regardless, chalk a "W" up for Denver.

On to Philadelphia, where this game will likely mean as much to the Eagles as it will to the Broncos, and for more than one reason. My biggest question is not in regards to the outcome of the game, but rather how Brian Dawkins will be received by the Philly faithful as a member of the other team. This is equivalent to Steve Atwater returning to Denver in a Jets uniform.

My take? Eagles' fans are infamously ruthless and ferociously loyal when it comes to their team, but I can't see them turning their backs on Dawkins after everything he did for them. They won't be nearly as kind to the other Broncos, and unfortunately neither will the Eagles, who seem to always play their best football in December and January.

At last, the roller coaster comes to a stop in the season finale against the Chiefs. As much as the Broncos struggle in Kansas City, the Chiefs struggle just as much in Denver, where they are winless since 2000. If the playoffs are on the line for the Broncos in this game, I seriously doubt that Matt Cassel and Todd Haley will be able to break that slump.

If things go the way I see them (they probably won't), and if I am as smart as I think I am (I'm not), this means that to get to 10 wins, the Broncos can't lose any of their remaining games against the division. Victories against the Colts or Eagles are possible, but highly unlikely—especially against the Colts.

The Chiefs and Raiders have long been out of the playoff race, but they would love nothing more than to spoil it for the Broncos as well and that's what scares me.

The only question remaining is which Denver team will show up to play these final five games, Jekyll or Hyde?