Denver Broncos

Charlie Boccanegra | Thu. Aug 21 2008, 03:08 pm

The Denver Broncos have had some success since John Elway retired a decade ago, including four playoff appearances, a division title and a conference championship game berth, but nothing like the run of success this team enjoyed during the Elway era. And last year, in their first season with young Jay Cutler as the fulltime starting quarterback, Denver went 7-9 to post its first losing season since the Broncos’ first year without No. 7.

Throw in some offseason grumblings about head coach Mike Shanahan (a two-time Super Bowl winner, don’t forget), and the tendency for coaches and their teams to drift apart after 8-10 seasons together, and one might be led to believe that this team is cycling out of NFL betting contention. However, thanks in large part to the quarterback Cutler looks like he might become, the Broncos cannot be written off, and may even prove themselves contenders this season.

Denver struggled last year, especially on defense, where they ranked 19th overall at 336 YPG and 30th vs. the run at a very generous 143 YPG. The offense tried to keep up, ranking 11th overall at 346 YPG and ninth in rushing at 122 YPG, but they regularly came up well short, as opponents averaged 26 points per game.

The Broncos were unkind to their financial backers as well, going just 5-11 vs. the NFL betting lines last year, and 1-7 ATS on the road. Also, the totals went 11-4-1 in Denver games, which averaged 46 total points.

Over the offseason the Broncos tried to upgrade on defense, bringing in LB Boss Bailey, MLB Niko Koutouvides and DT Dewayne Robertson. And they’ve still got a great pair of CBs in Champ Bailey and Dre Bly. Cutler put up some nice numbers last year, but got weaker as the season progressed; he later found out he was diabetic. With that in check, the former Vanderbilt Commodore may develop – and we mean soon – into one of the best in the league at his position.

WR Brandon Marshall caught 102 passes for 1,325 yards last season, and is emerging as a star. Denver has always been able to run the ball under Shanahan, and even without a big-name RB that should continue this season. Several off-field incidents, including a couple of tragedies, have affected the on-field performance of this team the last two years, both of which saw the Broncos miss the playoffs. But Cutler looks ready to take his game, and this team, to the next level.

If San Diego stumbles this year, it will be the Broncos who take their place atop the AFC West.