The reality of the situation for Denver fans is this: Vegas is giving the Broncos just 12/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, compared to 5/1 for New England and 8/5 for Indianapolis. The airlines are equally pessimistic. A round trip ticket from Denver to Detroit in early February can still be had for less than $300.
Based on this data, I've come to the following conclusion: It's time to get out my checkbook.
Ladies and gentlemen of the orange and blue, your Denver Broncos are going to the Super Bowl.
Let's look at the facts:
- Every team the Broncos have played this season has a winning record, save Miami (3-4) and San Diego (4-4). The only teams with winning records in the second half of Denver's schedule are Dallas (5-3) and a team they drubbed 30-10 earlier this season - Kansas City (4-3). So while the rest of their schedule has trap potential, a 6-2 record at this point in the season is undeniably impressive.
- The Broncos are third in the NFL in total offense, and first in the AFC. Jake Plummer's quarterback rating is nearly 20 points above his career average, and his young receivers are starting to make the tough catches that good receivers make. The running game has been unstoppable; Tatum Bell, the second head of Denver's two-headed running back monster, is averaging a gaudy 7 yards per carry. This is a team that can run short, run long, pass short, and pass long.
- Denver's defense, which was ranked 4th last year, looks even better this year. While they've had weak moments in several games (typically after the team has built up a significant lead), they're actually capable of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year. (Seeing as how this was their Achilles heel the past two playoff seasons, this is a most-welcome change.)
There are, of course, a couple of points of concern with this year's team:
- Jason Elam has looked shaky for at least two seasons now. Even when he converts, the ball rarely gets high or spins end-over-end. Nearly all of his kicks these days are low, curving, cringe-inducing affairs. In other words, if the Broncos get themselves in a pinch, they don't exactly have Adam Vinatieri to bail them out.
- We need to be prepared for the inevitable Plummer meltdown. It's not a question of "if" it will happen, it's a question of "when" and "how badly." While he's undoubtedly making better decisions this year, he's dodged a couple of interceptions the past few weeks by dumb luck. If we don't see a meltdown or two in the regular season, I think we're doomed come playoff time. So let's pray for a meltdown in some place like Oakland.
- Speaking of the passing game, the Broncos still can't play drop-back-and-pass football. Plummer's success depends almost entirely on the running game, so, in theory, if a team could stop the running game and the roll-outs, Denver would find themselves in some serious trouble. Of course, Shanahan knows this and will do everything he can to keep the running game going, but still…
- When the defense stops bum-rushing quarterbacks the Denver secondary looks shaky. Champ Bailey may or may not be a great cornerback, but he's definitely looked less-than-great this season with his hamstring injury. With Lenny Walls getting the axe this week, the Broncos depth chart now consists of Williams (rookie), Foxworth (rookie), and a napkin with Dale Carter's phone number scribbled on it.
- Both of the Broncos losses have been on the road. The Super Bowl isn't in Denver, and most likely, neither will be the AFC Championship game. Warrants mentioning.
For any team, however, there is a bigger question this year. Who the heck wants to go to Detroit in the dead of winter? I bet a lot of teams will be tempted to skip right to Disneyland and enjoy a couple extra weeks of vacation. Only the hungriest two teams will travel to a city whose motto is -- I kid thee not -- "We hope for better things."
So are the Broncos the hungriest team in the AFC right now? Hungrier than Indy or Pittsburgh?
My bet (which pays 12-to-1, by the way) is that they are.
And hey, if I'm wrong, I get a week in winterland Detroit on the cheap.
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