Schon: Broncos Rediscovered

After jumping out to a 5-1 record, Mike Shanahan's crew plummeted into football mediocrity, losing five of their next eight games. <br><br> Then, thanks in part to the generous gods of football scheduling, they were handed the perfect Christmas gift; a match up against the league's most injury ridden team – the Tennessee Titans.

Somewhere between a 7-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second week of the NFL season and Christmas Day's 37-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, the Denver Broncos found themselves, lost themselves and rediscovered themselves, all over again.

After jumping out to a 5-1 record, Mike Shanahan's crew plummeted into football mediocrity, losing five of their next eight games, then, thanks in part to the generous gods of football scheduling, they were handed the perfect Christmas gift; a match up against the league's most injury ridden team – the Tennessee Titans.

Sure, it was kind of like beating up on your little brother, but the one-sided contest did provided a temporary breath of life to a franchise falling almost as fast as Jake Plummer's approval rating.

Now, with Sunday's losses by Jacksonville and Baltimore, the Broncos find themselves in a familiar, albeit frightening, situation.

They control their own destiny.

A win over Indianapolis in the final game of the season and Denver secures a Wild Card spot for the 2004 playoffs where, depending on a myriad of possibilities, they will head to the road to face those same Indianapolis Colts (worst case scenario) or the San Diego Chargers (slightly better than worst case scenario) in the opening round.

If Denver gets by the Colts, combined with losses by the New York Jets (at St. Louis) and Pittsburgh Steelers (at Buffalo), then they would grab the number 5 seed, which would afford them the luxury of heading to Southern California for first round action, a much more appealing scenario than facing Indianapolis at the RCA Dome.

Either way it boils down to a Broncos victory, which, based on current circumstances may not be as far fetched as you think.

With Indianapolis already secured of a third seed playoff position, head coach Tony Dungy appears to be leaning toward limiting the playing time for his starting unit in what is essentially, a meaningless regular season game.

"We'll play our first group, and we'll see how it goes," Dungy told reporters during his Monday Press Conference. "There are a lot of factors involved in how much they'll play and how long, but it won't be a situation where we're not playing these 10 guys."

Regardless of which Colts team the Broncos face this Sunday, head coach Mike Shanahan is fully aware of the difficulties heading into the must win game.

"All that I know is that I've got to get our football team ready, and we've got to win this football game to get in the playoffs," Shanahan said.

"Our football team has to be ready to get their best shot because we know we'll get their best shot, and we'll play it from there."

Expecting the best from Indianapolis is almost a given.

Expecting the best from the Denver Broncos could be another story.

Schon can be reached at Schon@prostarmediagroup.net

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