My 4-12 prediction if the Broncos lost their opening game to Jacksonville is looking shaky thanks to a great win last week vs Tennessee. I'd much rather be wrong and have the Broncos win!
What I was afraid of in my 4-12 prediction was the difficult opening schedule for the Broncos. I figured a 1-2 start would quickly turn into 1-4 with tough road games at Tennessee and at Baltimore, followed by a home matchup vs the 2009 AFC runnerup Jets. A 1-5 start after the Jets game could have caused a negative spiral just like last year when the Broncos lost to the hapless Raiders and Chiefs at home in their 2-8 finish.
The win at Tennessee changes all of that. This week's game at Baltimore will still be very tough to win (Sport Illustrated's Peter King rates the Ravens as the best team in the NFL right now). Even with a loss in Baltimore the Broncos have a good chance to beat the Jets and finish the tough early part of their schedule with a 3-3 record.
What has impressed me with the Broncos so far? I expected Kyle Orton to have a good year, but he's showing much better mobility in the pocket and accuracy on deep passes than what we saw from him in 2009. Orton says he was hobbled by an ankle injury last year - this year is the first time he's been completely healthy in 3 seasons. Last season we rarely saw the Broncos throw deep - this year the long ball is back in the game plan. The 48 yard td pass from Orton to Brandon Lloyd in the Colts game traveled over 60 yards in the air and could not have been placed any better, settling into Lloyd's hands in the back of the end zone. Last week the key pass interference penalty on Jabar Gaffney was a result of another accurate long pass that traveled over 50 yards in the air.
The Broncos defense has also been impressive. Josh McDaniels made shoring up the run defense the #1 priority in the offseason and so far the results have been good (ranking 12th in the nfl vs the run this year compared to 26th vs the run in 2009). Linebacker Robert Ayers had his best game as a Bronco last week vs the Titans and has shed his "1st round bust" tag in the eyes of many fans to "future star".
There are still problems, most notably with the anemic rushing attack and Knowshon Moreno's inability to stay healthy, but last week's week gives me hope. This week's Baltimore game will be a good test on how much the team has improved over last year. The Ravens had the Broncos well scouted last year in handing Denver its first loss after a 6-0 start. The Ravens have an impressive run defense, but a shaky secondary. Give Orton time to throw and I am confident the Broncos will score points this week.