The Denver Broncos currently stand 2-4 and yet are only one-and-a-half games out of first place in a very weak AFC West.
They should have every reason to be optimistic about the remainder of their season.
First off, they should have beaten the New York Jets last Sunday, and despite the sting of the final second loss, the Broncos should be very proud of their effort. Most fans and experts expected a blowout, yet the Broncos maintained a lead late into the fourth quarter. The offense drove the ball fairly well on the final drive until a mishandled snap by quarterback Kyle Orton sealed the victory for the Jets.
Looking back, the Broncos have held their own in every single game—with the exception of the Ravens contest. Looking beyond the scoreboard of the game in Week 2, the Broncos closely played the Colts all game until the final quarter when Peyton Manning caught fire.
The Broncos faced the league's toughest schedule in its first six games, and thanks to the parity that is reigning supreme in the NFL this year, a division title is still very much in discussion for these Broncos. With a much easier schedule the rest of the way, Denver has no reason to not believe the playoffs are still within reach.
In fact, the Broncos should be back at .500 by the time of their Week 9 bye. With a contest this week against the Raiders (who seem to be playing quarterback roulette), and next week against the 49ers (who have not played well all year), this is not an unrealistic expectation. It would also allow coach Josh McDaniels to reset the season to eight games when the team comes back in week 10 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Speaking of the Chiefs and the rest of the AFC West, none of the teams seem to be playing well right now, leaving the Broncos in the best position to win the division title.
Don't laugh, hear me out.
Look at the first place Chiefs. They continue to get by despite continuously mediocre play by quarterback Matt Cassel and have lost two of their last three games. To me, they are looking more and more like the 2009 Broncos. A fast start immediately followed by an epic fall to earth. The Chiefs can't expect to pull out a division title with Cassel playing at the level he currently is.
Next, check out the Oakland Raiders. Will it be Bruce Gradkowski or Jason Campbell under center? Tom Cable seems to have fallen into that old Raider habit of flip flopping his quarterbacks on a daily basis, although injuries have come into play here somewhat. Follow that with the under performance of Michael Bush and the Raiders rushing attack, and this looks like a team destined for yet another sub-.500 season.
The San Diego Chargers scare me more than any other team, as they should with any other Broncos fan. This team still has an explosive quarterback in Philip Rivers, and despite the absence of Vincent Jackson (who supposedly will report to work soon), the offense remains as dangerous as ever. Under Norv Turner, the Chargers seemingly always start slow and then surge as the season progresses. Will 2010 be another example? Or has the Norv Curse finally killed the Chargers? Teams can only overcome slow starts so often before not being able to dig themselves out of a hole.
Finally, we come to the Broncos. As previously mentioned, the team has been in every game with the exception of one, and have been able to overcome multiple injuries at a variety of positions, most notably running back. With Knowshon Moreno finally able to play again, the Broncos offense might finally be ready to roll in both phases.
When you look at the Jets game, McDaniels showed his creative side utilizing the Wild Horses formation and rookie quarterback Tim Tebow, and also varied his standard packages so much that it kept the Jets' normally ferocious defense on its heels much of the game. If McDaniels can keep coaching like that, the Broncos will be a force to be reckoned with.
In a season where 10-6, 9-7, or perhaps even 8-8 or (gasp!) 7-9 could be enough to secure a division title, the Broncos definitely have the ability to play up to that level. Not many people thought the Broncos would sniff near .500 last year, and they finished right there and hunted the playoffs until the final week.
In 2010, with arguably a better and more complete squad, the Broncos have another shot at the division. Perhaps they have reversed their supposed tradition of starting fast and finishing slow. Maybe they are starting slow and finishing fast.
If it results in a postseason berth, I doubt many Broncos will mind that reversal of fortune.
Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkeNFL and check out his other writings on BroncoTalk, www.broncotalk.net