The fact that the BYE week came at the perfect time for the Broncos has been well documented here, and just about everywhere else on the web. Like I said after the Patriots game, we are 100% certain of two things heading into Week 9 against the Dolphins --
1. The Broncos are 4-3
2. The Broncos are in 1st Place in the AFC West, alone, and control their own destiny
Over the weekend, a few more things became increasingly clear to me, and I am ready to say I am 87.6% certain of these --
1. The AFC West is going to produce 1 playoff team, the division winner
2. This week's game against the Dolphins is a "Must Win"
Let's start with the first point. The AFC West just isn't a very good division. Sure, the Chargers are talented, but Norv Turner's "solid leadership" is eroding the quality of play at an atomic rate. Did you see how many horrible penalties the Chargers committed yesterday?? Sure, the Broncos are struggling a bit on defense, but remember, it is the Chargers that played in the AFC Championship Game, and it is the Chargers that nearly everyone picked to win the AFC West, and many chose to go to the Super Bowl. Yes, the loss of Shawne Merriman is big, but when Merriman missed 4 games for taking steroids, the Chargers went 4-0. Their level of play is eroding, and that is WITH Philip Rivers leading the NFL in Passer Rating. The Chargers are the team with all the pressure even if the Broncos play their way out of the playoffs.
Which leads me to Point #2.
The Chargers have done just about everything in their power to hand the division to the Broncos, and yet Denver has failed to take advantage. With the BYE over, the Broncos had better start collecting some wins, especially at home, because the schedule doesn't get any easier on the road. Let's take a look at each of the Broncos opponents the rest of the way --
Miami(3-4, 1-2 on the road) -- The Dolphins picked up a big win yesterday, beating division leader Buffalo 25-16. That win has the Dolphins feeling like they are still in the division race, with wins in hand against the Patriots and Bills, the two teams ahead of them in the standings. While it might appear they have struggled on the road, the Dolphins did beat down the Patriots in Gillette Stadium, and had the Texans beat until the final play of the game. Their other road loss was an embarrassing 31-10 performance in Arizona, but since that game the Dolphins are 3-2. The Broncos need to avoid mistakes and get the lead early against a Dolphins team that plays on alot of emotion and likes to control the game on the ground and with controlled passes from Chad Pennington.
at Cleveland(3-4, 1-2 at home) -- Don't be fooled by the Browns record. Don't believe me? Take a look at what they did to the Giants and Jaguars. The strength of the Browns so far this season has been the defense, and Shaun Rogers might be playing the best football of his career. The Broncos know all too well what a motivated Rogers can do, and he looks to be going 100% for 4 quarters every week. It is a Thursday Night, NFLN game, and Browns fans should be in full throat, especially if Cleveland can pick up a home win over the Ravens this weekend. Again, mistakes will have to be eliminated because the Browns are another one of these teams that plays with emotion. Get the negative vibes going early, and the crowd will quickly turn against Derek Anderson. Let it go the other way, however, and it could be a long night. Ask Eli Manning.
at Atlanta(4-3, 3-0 at home) -- Offensive Rookie of the Year? Ryan Clady has been awesome, but Matt Ryan has delivered as the #3 pick in the draft. The Falcons have been especially tough at home, and could easily be 6-3, 4-0 at home, when Denver comes to town. Dome stadiums have not been a friend to the Broncos, and what many tabbed as a win when the schedule was released earlier in the year is now a 50/50 game at best.
Oakland(2-5, 1-3 on the road) -- The Bronocs buried the Raiders in Oakland Week1 and need to do the same in the home game rematch. Having let a couple winnable games already slip away, the Broncos can't afford any more hiccups, especially within the AFC West, and beating the Raiders, at this point, is simply a requirement, no questions asked.
@ New York Jets(4-3, 3-1 at home) -- A trip to the Meadowlands is never a good time for the Broncos, and playing against Brett Favre won't make it any more enjoyble. Favre has struggled at times, including 3 picks against the Chiefs yesterday. Despite the cascade of boos, Favre and the Jets were able to get a late score and win 28-24. It's a winnable game, but it won't be easy.
Kansas City(1-6, 0-4 on the road) -- The Broncos have to atone for their ugliest loss of the season. The Chiefs are a bad football team, and the Broncos need to treat them as such when they come to Denver. The Chiefs were galliant against the Jets yesterday, but fell short. Must-win doesn't say enough about how the Broncos need to prepare for this game.
@ Carolina(6-2, 5-0 at home) -- The Panthers are having a huge season, and have flipped the script at home where they have historically struggled. In fact, teams from the MST or PST, that travel to the EST, and play at 1:00PM, have lost 15 straight games, including the Cardinals who lost to the Panthers 27-23 yesterday.. Need I say more?
Buffalo(5-2, 2-2 on the road) -- The Bills have played pretty well on the road, and this game could have huge playoff implications for both teams. Once again, the Broncnos have to find a way to protect home field, in a game that could easily become a night game due to the Flex-Schedule.
@ San Diego(3-5, 2-1 at home) -- Yes, the Chargers are struggling, but does anyone really want to face San Diego, at Qualcomm, with the division and the playoffs on the line? Me neither.
The Broncos have a tough road ahead of the them, literally. With 9 games left, Denver will play 5 road games and 4 at home. To me, they need to win all 4 home games, starting with Miami this week. The 4 teams on the Broncos home schedule have a combined 4-11 record on the road this season. Collect those 4 home wins and the Broncos are guaranteed 8 wins.
The Broncos' road opponents are much tougher at home, a combined 14-4. Simply go 2-3 on the road in the 5 remaining, and the Broncos finish 10-6, and likely win a division title. It all starts this Sunday, at home, against a Dolphins team that will come in expecting to win. The Broncos need to expect to win as well.
Each week I'll take a look at our upcoming opponents and how they fared the Sunday prior just to keep everyone abreast of who is doing what.