But halfway into the season, the Broncos are pleased at where they stand. Denver is 6-2, the same record as last year, and are tied for first place in the AFC West heading into Sunday's game against Oakland.
"I feel like we have done some good things in the first half of the season," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
The Broncos' first loss was a strange season-opening defeat at St. Louis in which Denver turned the ball over five times and gave up six field goals in an 18-10 loss. Then came the final-second loss to Indianapolis two weeks ago.
Denver also picked up some wins that could be big later in the year. The division leaders in the East and North are New England and Baltimore. Both are 6-2, and both were defeated by the Broncos. The Broncos would have the tiebreaker over either team when byes are handed out.
That won't matter if the Broncos can't hold off San Diego in the West. The first meeting between the teams, on Nov. 19, was moved to "Sunday Night Football." The second meeting is in San Diego on Dec. 10. Denver beat San Diego twice last season.
For now, Shanahan hasn't done much scoreboard watching to keep tabs of where his team fits in the AFC race.
"The only time that I really look at it is Week 14, 15, and 16 because you know what you have to do and you know where you are at," Shanahan said. "At this time of the year you have got to just keep on winning and everything will take care of itself."
Denver's outlook would have looked different had it lost last week. The Broncos, coming off that deflating loss at Indianapolis, went to Pittsburgh and forced six turnovers in a 31-20 win. Make no mistake, the difference between 6-2 and 5-3 for the Broncos was enormous.
"It's huge for us," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "To lose a game like we lost last week and then come into a hostile environment like (Pittsburgh) and get a win, it's big."
The Broncos aren't fooling themselves into thinking it was a perfect first half of the season. The offense struggled for six weeks, not scoring more than 17 points. That was fine because the defense allowed only two touchdowns. Denver's offense snapped out of its slump the last two weeks, scoring 31 points against Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, but the defense took a step back. The Broncos allowed 936 yards and 54 points in those two games, although they did enough against Pittsburgh to pull out the win.
The Broncos also will have to fight through many injuries to start the second half of the season. Six starters on defense are listed as questionable on the injury report. Another concern is letting up against a 2-6 Raiders team the Broncos already beat once this year.
"We are on to the second half and we have the Raiders and our football team is smart enough to know that you have to be ready," Shanahan said.
SERIES HISTORY: 93rd meeting. The Oakland Raiders have a 53-37-2 record against the Denver Broncos, but the recent history is one-sided in Denver's favor. Since the start of the 1995 season, when once-fired Raiders coach Mike Shanahan took over in Denver, the Broncos are 18-5 against the Raiders and have swept them seven times. The Broncos won the first meeting this season, a dull 13-3 win in which there was only three second-half points combined.
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