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MHR 2006 NFL Preview -- Denver Broncos

Season Previews are like, umm, never mind, you get the idea.  Tomorrow I am going to read all of the "expert" opinions on our 2006 Broncos, but thought You guys and gals would enjoy what I thought of our chances this season.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts as well!!!

Projected Record

14-2, 1st Place AFC West

Projected Schedule W/L

@St. Louis (W)
Kansas City (W)
@New England (L)
Baltimore (W)
Oakland (W)
@Cleveland (W)
Indianapolis (W)
@Pittsburgh (W)
@Oakland (W)
San Diego (W)
@Kansas City (L)
Seattle (W)
@San Diego (W)
@Arizona (W)
Cincinnati (W)
San Francisco (W)

Here they are. My #1 team heading into the 2006 season. Sure, I might be a little biased, but this team did get to the AFC Championship Game last year. I can point to several reasons I think Broncos are the team to beat. They play in a tough division, every year. They have a Top 5 Head Coach in Mike Shanahan. They have a Top 5 facility. They have a Top 5 Owner. And last, but certainly not least, they have the best fans in all of sports.(Unless you consider tossing harmful objects on the field a good thing). On the field, the Broncos look pretty balanced across the board. Jake Plummer is not nearly as bad as everyone makes him out to be. The running game has been the best in the league for over a decade. The LB's might be the best in the league, and if you look at teh Back-7 as a whole they'd be right up there. Add it all together and the Broncos should be right there come January. Certainly there are some concerns in there that will need to be addressed, but if the Broncos stay healthy, and win the games they are supposed to win, it's going to be a wonderfully Super season!

Team Strengths - The Broncos are loaded with veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. Offensively, you need look no further than WR Rod Smith, who at 36 is still the #1 receiver on this team. Everybody respects Smith, and he demands and deserves it. An undrafted FA out of college, Smith is beginning to scratch the surface of teh Hall of Fame and shows no signs of slowing down. He is a coach on the field for the young guys, and a leader in the locker room and in public. Though many people may not believe it, Jake Plummer is also a leader, and a good one at that. The team rallies around Jake and they feed off of his energy. Say what you want, but Jake has the respect of his coaches and teammates alike. If something should happen to Jake, waiting in the wings is Jay Cutler, who has looked every bit a super star in the making through 3 preseason games. C Tom Nalen anchors a solid O-Line unit that continues to perform year in and year out. He too may one day call Canton his football home, but that can wait. On defense it's more of the same, with MLB Al WIlson acting as the heart and soul. Wilson has never gotten the pub of a Ray Lewis or Tedy Bruschi, but he is definitely up there. Combined with Ian Gold and D.J. Williams, the Broncos have the fastest and arguably most talented set of LB's in football. It is a position of depth as well, with proven players like Nate Webster and Keith Burns providing strong Special Teams play. The Broncos are also strong on special teams, with former Pro Bowlers Todd Sauerbrun and PK Jason Elam. Sauerbrun will miss the first 4 games of the season, but should return Week 5 to be his old self.

Team Weaknesses - There are a few things for Mike Shanahan to be concerned with heading into the regular season. The Broncos are banking alot of their season on how well Javon Wlaker returns from knee surgery. The results have been promising so far, but with Smith getting up there in age, and disgruntled WR Ashley Lelie sitting the bench in Atlanta Shanny is going to need someone to be a consisten 2nd option. Though Denver has had little problem plugging running backs into the sysem and watching them run for 1200 yards, there is some concern that noone has really emerged to take hold of the job. There could be other reasons behind it other than the backs not having talent. While good, this O-Line is not great, compared to Bronco lines of the past. Guys like Mark Schlereth and Adam Zimmerman are Hall of Fame caliber players. That's why I love the Adam Meadows signing. Meadows is a proven commodity and will push George Foster to elevate his game. As for the RB's themselves, it seems to be a three horse race, and one that won't be decided anytime soon. Mike Bell took the early lead, but he doesn't have a lot of speed. Tatum Bell has all the speed in the world, but can get worn out from the punishment. The sleeper in all of this is Cedric Cobbs, a stud in college until he blew out a knee, Cobbs has led the NFL in pre-season rushing and hasa looked determined and fast in camp. As for the defense, front 4 pressure on the QB is a concern, as is the health of Courtney Brown and Gerrard Warren. 2005's Wunderkids Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth need to avoid the sophomore slump and contiue to elevate their game.

Best Case Scenario - Super Bowl XLI Champions. Boy that has a nice ring to it. I can just imagine the `FU' attitude Jake Plummer would have if he ever won a Super Bowl. Even getting to the SB would be a bit of gratification for Jake who has taken undue criticism during his career. That said, Jake is what he is and needs to play from in front and in control. Denver lost 4 games last season including the Steeler loss. Two of them were horrible games for Jake, due to the fact that Broncos fell behind early. Denver needs to play from in front and impose it's will on teams. Someone needs to step up and be the focal point of the running game and allow Shanny to get back to what he like to do best, run the football and control the clock. I keep harping on it, but pressure from the front 4 is the biggest key to the season. Denver ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks, and John Lynch, a safety, tied for the team lead with 4. To be a successful, dominate defense Denver needs to get that sack total closer to the upper half, with someone on the D-Line hitting double figures.

Worst Case Scenario - Let's call it like it is, the schedule is brutal. A few years ago the Broncos had what I thougnt was a Super Bowl Caliber team. They lost 3 overtime games that season, and ended up missing the playoffs the last week of the season. There is a razor thin line between winning and losing in the NFL. Every championship team gets breaks alon the way and Denver will need it's share. Pat Bowlen did well by refusing the trip to Pittsburgh to open the season. They still have to go to K.C. on Thanksgiving Night, where Arroehead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Broncos. Obviously injuries to any of the key guys would be hard to overcome and if a running back doesn't grab this opportunity by the horns the running game could struggle jsut a little bit. Any loss in focus during the season could turn a 14-2 team into an 11-5, 10-6 team in a hurry, and in the AFC I don't know if that is going to be good enough.

My Opinion - Plainly obvious by where I have the Broncos ranked heading into the season. I like this team alot. I like to mix of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance. I think Javon Walker is going to be healthy and return to Pro Bowl status, and combined with Smith and rookies Tony Scheffler and Brandon Marshall form to give Plummer the best set of receivers he's ever had. I am looking at the defense to step up and play huge, with Warren and Brown playing a big role on the defensive line. I think Kenard Lang was a great pick-up and can be that double-digit sack guy on the edge. Sure, the schedule is tough, but many of their toughest opponents have ot come to Mile High, where after a couple so-so home slates the Broncos once again are building a huge home-field advantage. I am eager to see Plummer react to the pressure of having a guy like Culer behind him. Plummer has never really had someone pushing him, and I think he is going to rise to the challenge and have his best year as a pro. One of these running backs is going to take advantage of the opportunity and become the next great Bronco runner. It's all going to come together in 2006. In 2004 a certain team lost the AFC Championship game at home, only to come back and win the Super Bowl the next season. The pain of a loss like that, coupled witht the hunger it creates, does amazing things on football field. When it's all said and done, Pat Bowlen will hoist another Lombardi Trophy and proclaim, "This One's For Jake!"