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Broncos Season Depends On How Well, Fast Team Comes Together

Michael HicksContributor IMay 27, 2009

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 03:  First round draft pick running back Knowshon Moreno #27 of Denver Broncos participates in practice at minicamp at the Broncos training facility on May 3, 2009 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Hope was high in the Mile High City early in 2008. The Denver Broncos started off with wins in four of their first five games and were 8-5 with three games left in the regular season. Then, the bottom fell out on what looked to be a promising season.

If the offseason is any indication—and for the fans’ sake, I would hope not—2009 might make 2008 look like a success.

With three consecutive losses to end the 2008 campaign, the Denver Broncos went from the clear-cut favorite to win the AFC West to missing out on the playoffs for a third-straight season.

In the process, head coach Mike Shanahan was fired, former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was brought in to replace him, and Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler was shipped to Chicago.

Things certainly have changed in Denver.

The team has a new starting QB in former Chicago Bear Kyle Orton, assuming he beats out Chris Simms for the job. There’s a new RB in Georgia rookie Knowshon Moreno, the No. 12 pick in April’s draft. And, there’s a new 3-4 defensive alignment under coordinator Mike Nolan, with the addition of safety Brian Dawkins, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, and fellow first-round draft pick Robert Ayers, out of Tennessee.

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The bevy of turnover in the team’s personnel will, ultimately, be the deciding factor in how well the team does in 2009. With a schedule that ranks 19th among the 32 teams in the NFL based on 2008 record, Denver could be a middle-of-the-road team. And, by the looks of things, the Broncos could get off to a similar start as it did last season.

With games at Cincinnati, home to Cleveland and at Oakland to open the season—all of whom combined for a 13-34-1 mark in 2008—Denver could be 3-0, just like last year, before entering what may be the toughest stretch for any team in the league this season.

Staring with a Week Four matchup at INVESCO Field at Mile High against the Dallas Cowboys and running through a mid-December showdown at Indianapolis, Denver plays nine of its next 10 games against teams with a .500 record or better. Six of those games come against playoff teams a year ago, and the only game against a team with a losing record is at Kansas City, where the Broncos lost 33-19 last season.

If that wasn’t bad enough, sandwiched between season-closing home games against Oakland and Kansas City is a road trip to Philadelphia, another 2008 playoff team.

Remember, this isn’t the same team that became the first squad in NFL history to blow a three-game division lead with three games to go last year. These Denver Broncos are totally different on both sides of the ball.

What McDaniels can bring to an offense that ranked second in yards per game, but was 16th in points scored will be key, especially with a new QB running the show.

What Nolan can do to a Broncos defense that ranked 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points will be key, especially with all the new personnel in the secondary.

How quick this team gels will be the ultimate factor in whether Denver can get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 or not.

My money’s on the team missing the postseason this year. With San Diego the favorite in the AFC West and only two wildcard spots available in a conference that featured 10 teams with a .500 or better record in 2008, the playoffs like look a long shot.

If Denver can start off 3-0 and weather the storm that is the middle of the season, eight or nine wins is possible—that might be just enough. But that depends on how well, and how quickly, things come together.

I’m not counting my chickens just yet.