Hello again, everyone! Before people get antsy about the title or upset about the content, let me make a few points clear. We should all be happy about the turn this season has taken for our Broncos since the halftime break of our Week Six match-up in San Diego. I was, to put it nicely, one of the more pessimistic fans in terms of our 2012 outlook before the season began, and our stumble out of the gate did little to change my mind. I foresaw an 8-8 season with no postseason success, if even any involvement! It now looks as though a 12-4 record is well within reach, meaning a potential bye week in the playoffs and a favorable match-up at home in the divisional round. That would certainly be an improvement over last season (I set that benchmark at 10-6 with a return trip to the divisional round) and it would go a long way in justifying the acquisition of Peyton Manning with which I disagreed.
Speaking of Peyton: the Broncos have adjusted to his limitations surprisingly quickly and well, rebuilding the offensive game plan around shallow crosses, screen passes, and swings or dump offs, with the occasional shot down the field to keep defenses honest. I'm a bit shocked that opponents haven't adapted, and I wonder if that sort of attack will be as successful against the better defensive units in the league. That doubt dovetails into the subject matter of this post. Note that the title considers the potential for caution, and does not signal for definite concern. You're obviously free to disregard the post all together, or refrain from reading it carefully before commenting in opposition below, but I hope that MHR is still a place for thoughtful introspection, as well as open and honest discussion.
Before the season began, everyone from enthusiastic fans to the supporters in the media hedged their optimism for Peyton's Broncos on the fact that their schedule looked an imposing gauntlet for any team. Their opponents' 2011 winning percentage combined to a staggering .543, just one win behind the league's toughest. A cursory glance at that slate revealed the sort of team names you'd expect considering that figure. The way Denver began their season lent credence to those doubts. Going into halftime of their first critical game of the year - that fateful Week Six divisional contest against their only potential rival in the watered-down AFC West - the Broncos had already amassed three loses and were working on a fourth, all of which looked disturbingly similar. Another mistake-fueled enormous early deficit would necessitate a furious comeback attempt, the same that had been thwarted thrice before, only this time it worked! The Broncos had survived a stretch of games where they faced opponents with a now-combined record of 35-19 with a 3-3 record of their own, a bye week to recover, and a suddenly soft schedule the rest of the way. They have followed up with three more decisive wins, and the bandwagon is in full force at last. But is there reason for caution?
After facing five opponents with a ridiculous current winning percentage of .689, the Broncos opponents since, and future, now carry a .374 winning percentage. Denver has looked better, and most have been quick to point out how that was to be expected as a factor of the team coming together, but what of the lurking variable of considerably weaker opposition? As they continue to add to their record and their stats become even gaudier, will that truly be a sign of our improvement or is that just a factor of who they're facing? As it stands now, the Broncos have one quality win: a victory over a depleted Steelers team at Mile High to open the season. Should they run the table from here on out, they'd add just one or maybe two more (at the Ravens, and possibly home versus the Bucs). The opposition that they'll face in the playoffs will be more like that initial murderers' row than the mediocre fodder they would have faced almost exclusively since.
SD Guy published a recommended FanPost, rife with insightful statistical analysis that came to the conclusion that we have reason for optimism, even against the teams expected to be in the playoffs this year. I urged caution, we discussed it as gentlemen, and I've now published this counterpoint in the hopes of continuing that pleasant and significant debate. the_prodigal_son has since asked "Where Are The Doubters Now" in a publication of his own, so may this serve as one answer to that question that I'm sure others have asked themselves as well. I am not advocating for pessimism, doubt, or even concern: simply caution to temper our collective optimism. Should the Broncos host a third-seeded New England Patriots in the divisional round, I will not be as confident as others already seem that the outcome of that game will be in our favor this time around. I will root for the Orange and Blue, as I have every day since I started following them in the early/mid 90s, but I will do so with a cautious optimism informed by the full facts of the season. What say you?