It's time to reveal my predictions for the 2010 Denver Broncos season. Just like last year I am going to base my predictions on what the team does in its opening game. Last year in this blog I wrote "If the Broncos can beat a good Bengals team on the road, I predict they start out 4-0. The schedule then gets much tougher, and they'll finish with an 8-8 record." Read all of my last year's prediction here.
That is exactly what happened last year (lucky guess), though I would never have expected the Broncos would start out 6-0, finish the season going 2-8, beat all the AFC West opponents on the road, and lose to them all at home. A very strange season!
I'm hedging on my prediction this year because the Jacksonville game this Sunday will tell alot about what type of team the Broncos will be in 2010. The Jaguar game is not as tough a matchup as the 2009 Cincinnati opener, but it won't be easy. The Broncos historically do not play well in the Florida heat in September games. They lost 34-10 in the 2005 opener at Miami, and lost 23-13 on Sept 23, 2007 at Jacksonville. The Jaguars often seem to have the Broncos number, too, as Jacksonville has won four of the past five games between the two teams.
Going into the Jacksonville game I am most concerned about the Bronco offensive line. Denver's two star young tackles, Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, may not even play. Harris is out for sure with an ankle injury, and Clady is questionable with offseason knee surgery. Most of the interior of the Broncos offensive line is new, too, with rookie center JD Walton getting his first start. Quarterback Kyle Orton has had an impressive preseason, but he has to have time to throw. If Denver's patched up offensive line cannot give Orton proper protection on Sunday, it will be a long day for the Broncos. They won't be facing the vanilla defenses of the preseason. The Jaguars, no doubt, will come up with some special blitz packages to take advantage of Denver's offensive line weakness.
One sure way to neutralize a good pass rush is with an effective running game. Here too, the Broncos have problems. Starter Knowshon Morino has missed the whole preseason with a hamstring injury and will not be 100%. The line has had problems in run blocking in the preseason too.
On defense the Broncos are healthy except for missing star pass rusher Elvis Dumerville (out for the season with a training camp injury)
If the Broncos can get decent offensive line play and protect Orton I think their precision passing game will carve up the Jacksonville secondary. I think the defense can hold the Jaguar offense in check. If the Broncos struggle with pass protection and run blocking, Jacksonville will win easily.
My season predictions:
If the Broncos beat Jacksonville, it'll be a good sign that the offensive line is coming around and that the defense can be effective without Elvis Dumerville. I think they follow up a Jaguar win with a win against Seattle at home. This puts the team at 2-0 heading into a huge home game against defending the defending AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts. Just like last year, when the Broncos capitalized on momentum from early season victories to beat powerhouses Dallas and New England at home, I think the Broncos can beat the Colts and start 3-0. After that the schedule gets tougher. I'll predict a 9-7 season if the team beats the Jaguars.
If the Broncos lose to Jacksonville, it could start an early season tailspin that the team will not recover from. I still expect a win against Seattle at home the next week (1-1), followed by losses to Indianapolis, at Tennessee, at Baltimore, and to the Jets at home to start out 1-5. The losing will affect the morale of the team, and the seemingly easy games of the schedule (Oakland home and away, KC home and away, etc) won't look so easy. The team scratches out a few wins on the way to a disappointing 4-12 record.
Even if the team struggles, I think it will be an interesting season. Rookie quarterback Tim Tebow will no doubt see more playing time if the team is out of playoff contention. I also like the initial indications of the 2010 draft class (much better than the 2009 class). The Broncos are building a young talent base but it probably won't come together this year.