As always, this is just my opinion.
Well, here we are at 3-0. Right now, it feels good. We still haven't gotten respect from John Clayton, et. al., due to our cupcake schedule so far (although Cincinnati's success is conveniently overlooked). Also, despite the fact that we cause our cupcake opponents to perform significantly worse against us than against their other opponents. John Clayton's favorite mantra has been that coming up, the Broncos have an 8-game run against "some of the best teams in football" He likes to call it a "gauntlet", in which he rhetorically asks "Where will the Broncos get their wins during this stretch?" Well, Mr. Clayton, I take your challenge. I think that his assessment is based more on 2007-2008 results and/or 2009 projections, rather than actual results so far. In that stretch, I only see two very nasty games and a host of difficult ones. All of them seem winnable; none of them really seem easy, though. First a quick note: I will say that right this very second, if we were to play any of these teams tomorrow, and if those teams were to play to their potential and play as we have been, it is probable we could only hope for an even outcome in wins and losses. However, the three weeks of relative ease we've had to gel, plus our superior conditioning, plus some key injuries and regressions in the teams we will face, means that luck is on our side. And because this is the 2009 Broncos -- like the 2009 Rockies -- we will keep ourselves in a position to take advantage of that when it falls our way, and you can guarantee that we will in fact capitalize on the opportunities presented to us.
Week 4: The Dallas Cowboys (home)
They have looked alternately very good and very poor. In Week 1, they beat up on a Buccaneer team that now looks atrocious. Still, they allowed them 21 points and made Byron Leftwich look halfway decent. Romo looked great in that game -- and the MSM was quick to jump on the bandwagon -- but has looked alternately pitiful and mediocre in his other games (vs. the Giants and the Panthers). Their rushing attack looks formidable, but they are down to 1.5 healthy guys, and they have yet to face a top-5 rush defense like the Broncos. This one looks eminently winnable, and honestly: if we don't win, I will think that something went seriously wrong with the Broncos, rather than the other way around (which is how Clayton is likely to take it).
Week 5: The New England Patriots (home)
This one is tricky. The Pats have barely beat Buffalo, lost convincingly to the Jets, and then handled a good Atlanta team pretty well. This team, despite its being coached by Bellichick, is mercurial and still struggling to get into a rhythm. The MSM is likely to be practically drooling over the storylines these past two weeks: first the Favre reunion, then the Darth Vader - Emperor Palpatine smackdown. I still see this as a very tough game, but I see some great ways to win it for us. First of all, the Pats will be coming to us fresh off of Baltimore. That will be a solid test in more ways than one (more on that in Week 8's writeup), and will tell us a lot about what kind of team we will be facing. I suspect that they will come away beat up and bruised. The Pats' running game is now relying on Fred Taylor who, while he's had an amazing career, is not a feature back anymore. Also, Brady has been tenative under pressure, and is obviously still feeling the effects of the knee injury. His offensive line is very shaky, and we have the sack master in Dr. Doom. We are also playing at home, and the Pats have shown that they are reverting back to being a pass-first team -- music to the ears of the Phonz, Goodman, Hill, Bailey, and Dawkins. I initially called this a loss, but I'm going with a hard-fought win instead.
Week 6: The San Diego Chargers (away)
This is likely to be harder than the Broncos faithful think, but easier than the MSM thinks. I look at SD and see a team that has many good pieces, but consistently fails to put it together -- which has pretty much been the story since 2006. They have so far struggled mightily against Oakland and an underwhelming Miami team, and lost a close one to a pretty good Baltimore team. No question, the Chargers are always dangerous, and even moreso in Qualcomm. But LDT has shown that he is far from the dynamic threat he was 2+ years ago, and Sproles is a guy I can't quite figure out. He looks superb at times, but I can't shake the feeling he is the RB version of Devin Hester: fantastic at returns, but benefitting more from his surrounding cast than innate talent at his slotted position. The SD defense isn't even the shadow of what it was in 2007 -- they're missing Jamaal Williams and Igor Olshansky, and Merriman is a non-factor. Still, this is Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Vincent Jackson we're talking about here. This, to me, is a coin toss right now. I will have to see how the Broncos do against Dallas and New England first. If you forced me to choose right now, I would go for a last-second Nate Kaeding field goal being the difference. If I were into sacrificing things to the gods, I would do so for this game.
Week 7: Bye
Rest and recoup. Heal injuries. Ignore the media.
Week 8: Baltimore Ravens (away)
If I had to pick "Most overrated team of 2009 through Week 3", I would have to give Baltimore a long, hard look. In many ways they parallel us so far, but because they are stationed on the East Coast and have a "cannon-armed" mobile quarterback, they fit right into the media bias-hole. Back in June, I picked them to seriously regress. Honestly, I had forgotten about that and had gotten caught up in the media hype (and the fact that I have Flacco on one of my fantasy teams) -- until I looked closer. Week 1: they played Kansas City. Meh. Still, they allowed 24 points to them, which is as many as KC scored in their next two games combined. And this is, after all, the Chefs. That's a red flag. Also, Flacco/McGahee/Rice have been able to pad their stats against the likes of KC and the Browns. That's a red flag. They also beat the Chargers, and you know how I feel about them. So here's the point: two games won against two cupcake teams, and one close game won against a team that is at least moderately sound. Sound familiar? And yet, due to the biases inherent in the MSM, they are ranked consistently in the top 5 and have a stellar defense that doesn't miss Rex Ryan one bit. This is a team whose first real test, like ours, comes Week 4. We'll see after that. Right now, however, I'd give us the edge in a low-scoring game very similar to Cincy. We will get two weeks to game-plan them, plus two weeks of rest, plus (I suspect) ample film to display their weaknesses.
Week 9: Pittsburgh Steelers (home)
Along with the Cardinals, the Titans, and the Panthers, add the Steelers to "The most disappointing team of 2009 through Week 3" award list. I'm a U of I alum, and I lived in Illinois most of my life. I thought that Rashard Mendenhall was an idiot to enter the draft as a junior, and I thought that there was a good reason why he fell into the late first round. The Steelers weren't necessarily stupid to pick him where they did, but they didn't get near the value most pundits thought when they got him where they did. His fumbling problems last year, his broken collarbone, and then his getting benched this year for not knowing the playbook -- at least he's not a lockerroom cancer. Still, behind that atrocious offensive line, I suppose I can't give him too much flak. Keep perspective here: Week 1, they beat the Titans, who now look very middling. Week 2 they lost to the Bears and Week 3 they lost to the Bengals, both on last-second plays. That's disheartening. So is getting your quarterback sacked 4 times a game. They're still dangerous, but because Ben Roethlisberger is quite possibly the 3rd-most clutch QB in the history of the NFL, behind the Greatest Ever and Peyton Manning. Everywhere else, they're an implosion waiting to happen. I give this to us, especially at home.
Week 10: Washington Redskins (away)
This is a game that gets blown way out of proportion, IMO. This will not be an easy win for us, but it should certainly be a win. This team has struggled against the Rams and the Lions, losing to the latter. Really, that should tell you all you need to know. Haynesworth is not doing a whole lot (certainly not $100 million's worth), and are you still thinking we should have gotten Orakpo over Moreno? We have shown that we are solid against the run, especially power running up the middle -- which is Washington's style. Jason Campbell and his receiving corps does not scare me in the slightest. Now that we have had time to gel, and barring injuries, and especially if we keep winning, this ought to be a lock for us. And, since this is the 2009 Broncos and we win games we are supposed to win, I'm giving us a win here.
Week 11: San Diego Chargers (home)
Again, I can't quite get a read on us vs. the Chargers. All I've said before still applies, but I give us the win this time due to home-field advantage and continued struggles by the Chargers taking their toll.
Week 12: New York Giants (home)
Ick. The Giants look very good this year, just like the Jets do. They have won in games where they were the better team (Washington, Dallas), and murdered teams who were far below them (Tampa Bay). They seem very well-balanced on offense, and stellar on defense. The one ray of hope I see is the usual injuries to Jacobs and/or Bradshaw. Outside of that, even on our home court, this one goes to the Pansies -- I mean, the New York Giants.
So, that's Clayton's "gauntlet". I see winnable games (Washington, Pittsburgh, Dallas), ones that could go either way (New England, Baltimore, San Diego), and only one near-certain loss (New York). After that, we have the Chefs (win), the Colts (loss), the Faders (win), the Iggles (toss-up based on injuries), and the Chefs again (win). It's really not irrational to believe in 13-3, although I wouldn't put money down on it. I think that I just might put money down on 11-5, however, and now would be the time to do it while we are still 3-point underdogs to Dallas.
But, as always, this is just my opinion.