AFC Playoff Projections
The key coming into the first half of the season for the Broncos: Keep your head above water. For me I felt that at 4-4 they would be in good position. Following a domination of the Saints, who looked uninspired and overmatched, the Broncos are 4-3 with one game to get to the midway point. A win puts them at 5-3 and clearly not drowning. In fact in a Conference where parity is ever present, its not out of the picture for the Broncos to fight for the number one spot. But as a spectator of the sport and a fan, I try to approach the season similar to the way players and coaches are supposed to: One game at a time. Yet to go completely contrary to that I took a look at the conference and the contenders schedule and here is what the AFC playoff picture looks like to me at season's end:
1. Houston Texans- They are in the drivers seat. They have a couple of tough games ahead of them. They have games against the Bears, Lions, and Patriots in the next couple of months. All of those are on the road. Then two of the last three weeks they will face the division opponent Colts. I would say with a 6-1 record they are the front runner to be the number one seed. However the Patriots at home could be the key game.
2. New England Patriots- The Patriots have a tough four game stretch- @New York @Miami vs. Houston vs. San Francisco How they come out of that will determine a lot. My guess is that they beat the Jets and Miami. And lose one of the games at home against the Texans or the 49ers. If they do that they finish at 12-4 and the Broncos are the only team to compete with that. And since the Patriots won the meeting between the two of them, they are in position to take the Bye and no. 2 seed
3. Denver Broncos- We all know the schedule lightens up a little now; we also know that there are no gimmies in this league. Anywhere from 13-3 to 11-5 is realistic. I think they get the three seed. If they run the table they could make a nice little run for the number one seed... One game at a time!
4. Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers are one game behind the Ravens right now, and things are not looking pretty for the Ravens. I give the edge to the Steelers. These teams still play each other twice. A split would seem logical. But I think Pitt has the more favorable situation and grabs the four seed and a home game for the playoff rematch
5. Baltimore Ravens- This is still the Ravens. They are not playing great defense. But the offense has shown some explosiveness. I think they continue to battle and find ways to get their way into the playoffs.
6. This spot is open for me.. You can fill in the blank. I think that this weeks game between the Dolphins and the Colts may actually be the team the Broncos face in the first week of the playoffs, according to these projections. The Chargers are not dead either. It seems like maybe some air was let out in there 2nd half collapse to the Broncos. To lose to the Browns was a tough one. Football sense tells me that they are the best team left. But who knows. This weeks opponent, the Cincinatti Bengals, will be in the mix too.
Middle Linebacker Situation
Its been a couple of tough weeks for Joe Mays. He went from being suspended, to being demoted, and now out of the lineup. That raises speculation that he may be done as a Bronco. At least as a multi-million dollar salary Bronco. It has also raised speculation that D.J. Williams competes for the starting MIKE position. I don't think the seasoned vet Brooking is going to let that go too easy, at least on 1st and 2nd down, but we will see. Kliza of the Post suggests that they will bring D.J. in in creative ways. Perhaps using some 3-4 looks with all four linebackers playing and Dumervil coming in on passing downs. I don't know if we will see too much of that. But it will be interesting to see how he comes back. He will be fresh and I think his versatility will be important against teams that run the no huddle. It sure never hurts to have a pro bowl talent being added to an already blossoming defense.
The benching and injury has also raised speculation with regards to next years draft and free agent market.. We covet players like Manti Teo out of Notre Dame. The problem is he is in the conversation as a Heisman winner and could be a very high pick. Mosley out of Alabama may be an option later in the first round but we ll have to see how that develops.. As for free agency, there may not be a lot of options. Perhaps Chicago lets go of the aging Brian Urlacher and we decide to bring in Brookings peer? I doubt it. I am hoping that they can find a good solid draft pick who can step right in. The free agent market may include guys like DE's Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora. Players who may not want to be paid by their teams. Would we have the space to snag an available FA next year if the opportunity arises?
Salary Cap Situation
Well that brings me to the Salary cap state of the Denver Broncos. This is of interest in the middle of the season because the way certain players play the season out will obviously have a bearing on decisions that are made in the off-season. As of right now, the Broncos have $11 million in cap space. Priority number one: Ryan Clady A deal was not made this off-season so he will be a free agent following this season. His current cap figure is $5.8 million. The top paid LT is at $11.2. If he is equal to that contract then his contract will take an additional $5.4 off the cap. If all of the other contracts were to remain unchanged, which they won't, but for the sake of guesstimation.. that would put the cap at at just under $6 million. Vickerson is a free agent next year and I am sure will be a priority. He currently makes $1.7. Tony Carter is making an interesting case for himself as he will be a free agent who is currently making 615,000. Tracy Porter is on a one year deal worth $4 million. So it will be interesting to see how they handle that. They could shed some salary by cutting Joe Mays who is about $4 million against the cap. Knowshon is $2.6 against the cap and I think has been paid all of his guaranteed $. Then there is the case of D.J. Williams who counts $6.7 against the cap... So anyway I thought it was interesting to see their situation and to keep an eye on how they may handle it. (Correct me if I am wrong in any of the cap figures and salaries)
I don't want to be too optimistic fresh off of 6 really good quarters of football. But this team has potential to be really good. The offense is starting to gel and the Defense is starting to find its identity as well. I am sure that there may be some frustrating moments as they need to continue to improve. But they are in good shape.. And Its hard to make this judgement, but it sure seems to me that this is the most complete team surrounding Peyton Manning that he has ever had. And with a good off-season they can continue to build on that in the next few years. With their head above water following the 1st half storm, they can now prove that they can swim in the deep waters of the NFL! But one game at a time my friends, one game at a time.