NFL Predictions 2011: Denver Broncos Playoff Contenders This Season?

Jason MuckleySenior Analyst IISeptember 1, 2011

NFL Predictions 2011: Denver Broncos Playoff Contenders This Season?

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    Call me crazy, but I believe the Denver Broncos have a legitimate shot this season to make the playoffs. They may not take the division title, but the Broncos somewhat "soft" schedule and greatly improved defense gives them a shot to end their five-year playoff drought in head coach John Fox's first season in Denver.

    Take a look with me at the Broncos' upcoming schedule and see if you believe as I do that the Broncos will play in the postseason in 2011.

Game 1 vs. Oakland Raiders (Monday Night Football)

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    The Broncos start off the regular season under the bright lights of the recently renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High against their longtime division rivals, the Oakland Raiders.

    As the first test of their revamped team, the Broncos look to immediately rebuild their pride and swagger against a team that embarrassed them at home last season in a 59-14 thrashing.

    Players and fans alike will be out to get revenge for the ugly loss.

    The Raiders have a strong running game and mediocre passing game. They will be a good test to see if the Broncos run defense will be better this season. Yards and points may be hard to come by for the Broncos against the Raiders ever-improving defense.

    This game should be a close one, but the Broncos will prevail and get revenge from last season.

    Final score: Broncos 24, Raiders 20.

    Overall Record: 1-0.

Game 2 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Broncos face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the regular season. If there is a team in the NFL that has had more quarterback controversy this offseason it has to be the Bengals.

    The controversy is not who will start, but rather who will refuse to start and demand a trade. Carson Palmer has refused to play another game for the Bengals and has left the Bengals scrambling to find his replacement.

    The Bengals have green-lit Andy Dalton as the starter this season, until it becomes obvious that he isn't the answer. It is unlikely, barring injury, that the Broncos will face a different quarterback other than Dalton.

    So far this offseason it appears that Dalton has a long way to go. In two games, he has three interceptions and no touchdowns. Jordan Shipley appears to be the No. 1 receiver in Cincinnati, but Cedric Benson should be a force this season in the running game.

    The Broncos should keep lots of pressure on Dalton in the game and may struggle against the run. The Broncos should come out on top in this one.

    Final Score: Broncos 20, Bengals 10.

    Overall Record: 2-0.

Game 3 @ Tennessee Titans

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    Week 3 will be a major test for the Denver Broncos. 

    The Broncos go on the road to face the Tennessee Titans. Contract issues between the Titans and Chris Johnson will likely be sorted out before the regular season starts, and by Week 3, Johnson will be running on all cylinders.

    By this time in the season, the Broncos have to have their run defense problems sorted out, or it will be a long game.

    At quarterback the Titans have longtime veteran Matt Hasselbeck, an efficient, game manager who brings some flair and a lot of consistency.

    The Broncos need to keep Hasselbeck on his heels and Johnson contained behind the line of scrimmage to succeed in Week 3. No matter what happens, this game will be close.

    Final Score: Broncos 17, Titans 14.

    Overall Record: 3-0.

Game 4 @ Green Bay Packers

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    The Broncos will journey to Lambeau field in Week 4 to face the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. The Packers will be the Broncos' most difficult matchup on the schedule in 2011.

    The Packers have a dynamic offense and arguably, the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers. Champ Bailey, Andre Goodman, Brian Dawkins and Rahim Moore will be challenged in the pass game by the Packers.

    The Broncos will need to keep the Packers from stringing together big plays that could get them down behind quick.

    On defense, the Packers have some of the most explosive players in the game. It will be another huge test for the offensive line to keep the defense out of the backfield. This game needs to be controlled by the run game to generate long drives and keep Rodgers off the field. Doing this will be the Broncos only chance at a victory.

    If this game was played closer to the end of 2011, I think the Broncos would have a better chance. However, the game instead is early on in the season. Therefore, I see the Packers giving the Broncos their first thrashing of the season.

    Final Score: Broncos 7, Packers 31.

    Overall Record: 3-1.

Game 5 vs. San Diego Chargers

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    The Broncos momentum now at a stand still after getting throttled in Green Bay, they face arguably the best team in the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers.

    This will be a close matchup for the Broncos' improving defense facing high-flying familiar faces. The Chargers will have similarities to the Packers with the talented Philip Rivers tossing the ball to Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates.

    The key for the Broncos in this game will be stopping Ryan Mathews at the line of scrimmage. He has shown flashes of greatness with his lightning-quick speed and big-play potential.

    The Broncos need to be able to establish the run and get an early lead.

    I think the Broncos still might be struggling to recover from the loss from the week before and lose this one late to the Chargers.

    Final Score: Broncos 24, Chargers 27.

    Overall Record: 3-2.

Game 6 @ Miami Dolphins

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    Coming off a bye to face the Miami Dolphins will be just what the doctor ordered for the Broncos in Week 7 of the NFL season.

    Upset about defeats to the defending Super Bowl Champions and hated divisional rivals, the Broncos come to Miami fired up and angry. The Broncos pass rush will keep Chad Henne (or whoever he has been replaced by) on their backs for most of the game.

    The pass rush will disrupt the Dolphins' ability to move the chains and without balance the Dolphins' floundering rushing attack provides little help on offense.

    On this day, Kyle Orton will light up the Dolphins' secondary leaving many of the Fins' fans wondering why they couldn't get the deal done to bring him to South Beach.

    The Broncos are back on track with this easy victory.

    Final Score: Broncos 27, Dolphins 7.

    Overall Record: 4-2.

Game 7 vs. Detroit Lions

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    Next, the Broncos face a quickly maturing and growing Detroit Lions team. They have gone from perennial pushovers to a team that competes every week.

    The Detroit Lions are becoming more and more of a force on defense. Drafting Ndamukong Suh last year has changed the entire attitude and outlook on defense. The Lions defensive line will challenge the young Broncos' offensive front and should be a gauge of how far they have come so far this season.

    I expect some of the holes in the offensive line to be exposed and for Orton to be running for his life a lot during this game.

    On offense, the Lions have an ever-improving Matthew Stafford at quarterback with some exciting weapons around him that will cause fits for the Broncos' secondary.

    This game should be a very close one with the improvements Denver has made on defense. I believe that this game will determine the rest of the season for the Broncos. If they can put together a great showing and display perseverance to overcome the Lions, it will launch them into the second half of the season.

    Final Score: Broncos 23, Lions 20.

    Overall Record: 5-2. 

Game 8 @ Oakland Raiders

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    Coming off a huge victory at home at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos travel into the black hole that is Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

    The Raiders will be looking for revenge from their first loss to an AFC West team in over a year when the Broncos come into town. However, the same difficulties the Raiders had in Week 1 against the Broncos will remain in this Week 9 matchup.

    The running game for Oakland will be at top form and the Hue Jackson system will now fully be in place.

    This game will be another close one for the Broncos, but the many upgrades the Broncos made during the offseason will again be the difference between a win and a loss.

    Final Score: Broncos 17, Raiders 14.

    Overall Record: 6-2.

Game 9 @ Kansas City Chiefs

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    At this point in the season, the media will be amazed at the progress the Broncos have made in 2011. Some of the Broncos newfound pride will get them off focus when they come to Arrowhead Stadium to face the dynamic Kansas City Chiefs.

    Jamaal Charles is going to have a field day against the Broncos. Any progress the Broncos have made previously stopping the run will be set back several weeks by Charles' blazing speed.

    Matt Cassel won't have to do much with Charles carving up the Broncos' defense single-handedly.

    The Broncos can't wait to get out of KC as they run away with their tails between their legs after this humbling defeat.

    Final Score: Broncos 6, Chiefs 24.

    Overall Record: 6-3.

Game 10 vs. New York Jets (Thursday Night Football)

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    The New York Jets were the straw to break the camel's back for the Broncos last season. When all of the analysts gave the Broncos little to no hope at beating the Jets, the Broncos fought against the Jets all game keeping it close, only to lose it in the fourth quarter. I remember that game well because of a piece I wrote before the game outlining the keys for the Broncos. However, they couldn't execute well enough to hold off the Jets.

    The overhaul to the run offense should help move the ball against the Jets, but the key to the game will be Mark Sanchez. Defensively, the Broncos will harass Sanchez all game, but Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman will face stout challenges facing Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.

    This game will be low scoring and close. However, I think the Broncos need a few more pieces to overcome the Jets' talent.

    Final Score: Broncos 10, Jets 13.

    Overall Record: 6-4.

Game 11 @ San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers have excelled late in the season the past several years, making the Broncos matchup with them in Week 12 an epic battle.

    The Chargers have owned the Broncos for a while now. In the last four seasons, the Broncos have lost six of the eight meetings between the two teams. This season the Broncos must figure out a way to beat the Chargers.

    They need to get at Philip Rivers early and often and need to shut down the Chargers' run game.

    I think the poor play in San Diego and against the Chargers in general continues this season, the Broncos are swept again in 2011.

    Final Score: Broncos 17, Chargers 28

    Overall Record: 6-5. 

Game 12 @ Minnesota Vikings

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    The Vikings are in a similar status as the Broncos in 2011. They have a new head coach, Leslie Frazer and they have lots of personnel changes throughout the team.

    Most notably, the Vikings have a new quarterback in Donovan McNabb. The Vikings will heavily rely on his experience to navigate the team through defenses in 2011.

    The Vikings are just the kind of team the Broncos are looking for after a rough stretch of three straight losses.

    McNabb will spend a lot of his time in the turf as he runs from Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller all game.

    The Broncos put together just enough on offense to hold off the Vikings.

    Final Score Broncos 20, Vikings 17.

    Overall Record: 7-5.

Game 13 vs. Chicago Bears

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    This is the matchup that Broncos fans have been waiting for, for more than two seasons now.

    The Broncos made an offseason acquisition for Kyle Orton, two first-round picks (2009 and 2010) and a third-round pick (2009), for Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick (2009) as the premier trade during the young McDaniels era. Broncos fans are still divided whether the compensation and the results were too much to bear. 

    There are lots of fans who never liked Cutler and his whiny attitude and mysterious injuries late in the game when the team would fall apart. But for fans, this one is going to be a game that they have to have. They want to bring it to their defiant former gunslinger and come up with the victory.

    I think that the Denver's defensive front will cause Cutler fits all throughout the game. The Bears' offensive line has been decimated in recent years by management not rebuilding after suffering losses. Releasing their star center Olin Kreutz is a big loss, which will affect them all season.

    The defense is the hero in this one as the Broncos step up to the task and show that they belong in the playoffs.

    Final Score: Broncos 24, Bears 7.

    Overall Record: 8-5.

Game 14 vs. New England Patriots

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    The Broncos face a very tough matchup against the New England Patriots in Week 15.

    This should be a back and forth battle between two teams headed for the postseason.

    The Patriots appear to be the better team thus far in the offseason. The Patriots look like they are poised to be playoff bound for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.

    The Broncos will be really tested by Tom Brady and his precision passing and new weapons on offense. The Broncos will also have a hard time running the ball or generating much offense. This will be one of the Patriots final tune-ups before the post-season. Look for the Patriots to carve up the Broncos.

    Final Score: Broncos 10, Patriots 31.

    Overall Record: 8-6.

Game 15 @ Buffalo Bills

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    Week 16 figures to be a snow game in Buffalo, NY. 

    The adverse weather conditions could pose a problem for the Broncos even though the Broncos figure to play a snow game at Mile High some time during the end of the season.

    The thing about games in snow is that sometimes the results are unpredictable. However, I think the Broncos defense will keep any sort of offense from the Bills at bay in this game.

    If the offense can do the bare minimum to generate some points it will give the Broncos a shot at the playoffs.

    Final Score: Broncos 13, Bills 3.

    Overall Record: 9-6.

Game 16 vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Late in the season, the Broncos will control their own destiny. If they can avoid mental errors late in games in the second half of the season, they will be able to make a run for the playoffs.

    The Broncos face the Kansas City Chiefs at home with their season on the line.

    In this situation the Broncos have suffered over the past decade with late-season meltdowns and major choking. The Broncos need to make a statement this season with a new head coach. They need to come up big here and prove to nay-sayers that they have really made a change.

    This game will be a tight one and if there has been significant growth by the run defense, they will be able to stop the Chiefs. It's true that that statement is a major "if." The Chiefs have one of the best running backs in the league in Jamaal Charles, and it is a major task to stop him for 60 minutes.

    The Broncos pull off a huge upset over the Chiefs and vie for the playoffs in 2011.

    Final Score: Broncos 20, Chiefs 10.

    Overall Record: 10-6.

Broncos Playoff-Bound?

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    Some might see this article as wishful thinking, but based on the major acquisitions and strides the Broncos have made in the offseason, I believe that the Broncos have as good a shot as any to take the division and at worst capture a wild card spot.

    The Broncos have been held out of the playoff since 2005 under Mike Shanahan's lead. The Shanahan era is long gone and the Broncos need stability and consistency more than anything to get back on track this season.

    If the Broncos do make it to the playoffs, I can't imagine them making a run deep into the playoffs. However, all bets are off if it becomes a reality.

    Even if it doesn't pan out as I imagine, I am excited to watch the growth and development of the Broncos in 2011.

    Go Broncos!