But I use both sides of my brain when it comes to football, and here is what I believe will play out this year, and why---
The Broncos preseason has been much more about analyzing personnel and schemes than it has been about winning or game-planning. We've seen a defense that has had wholesale changes made to it. The personnel we now have are learning on the job about the Jim Bates defensive philosophy, and it will take a while for the pieces to mesh together into a cohesive squad.
The offense looks ready to open things up come September 9th. Cutler looks poised and ready to take advantage of the many weapons he has at his disposal. The run-game looks like it will be a great compliment to the passing game. Shanahan has always been good at getting the most out of the talent he has. In recent years, that talent level had waned a bit. But with a healthy Javon Walker, Brandon Stokely, Brian Clark, Nate Jackson, Tony Scheffler, and Domenik Hixon, not to mention the running backs, this team is vastly upgraded at the skill positions.
It will take some time to hit stride, but this team is so loaded with potential that it is going to be able to keep improving week after week, while still winning games.
The big question is the defense, especially the front four playing against the run, and also the pass rush. The pieces are there. Losing defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban in the pre-season was a blow, but it was also an opportunity. I look for a huge year from Elvis Dumervil. This guy has a motor, and is a natural-born play maker. Dre Bly and Champ Bailey are the best CB tandem in the league. Lynch is still a leader at safety, although he is not getting any younger. Nate Ferguson needs to elevate his game.
At linebacker, Ian Gold and D.J. Williams are hoping that Nate Webster can step into the starting role at the second OLB position. Williams will have his hands full at middle linebacker, but he is speedy enough to put himself in good position to make stops. He needs to improve his tackling technique and all of the defenders need to stop trying to arm-tackle 225-pound running backs. If they get back to fundamentals they will do a good job.
So why will Denver win it all this year? It's all about the schedule this season. Denver will have a somewhat easier schedule than its biggest rival in the AFC West of late, the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers open their season at home against the Super Bowl runner-up Chicago Bears. Denver plays on the road at the Buffalo Bills. While neither should be an easy game, the Broncos should come out with a win. Week after week, on paper, Denver should have a slightly easier schedule. Playing in the AFC West, the Broncos of course face the Chargers twice. Denver had trouble with them last year, but they're not the same team they were in 2006.
Beating the Chargers will be the only way to earn a first-round bye and a division title. The keys to winning will be turnovers, ball control and red-zone posessions resulting in touchdowns. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers is due for a sophomore jinx. Cornerbacks Dre Bly and Champ Bailey might give him nightmares this year.
The biggest reason the Broncos will emerge with a championship this year is very simple - there is a decal on the back of every helmet this year. The team suffered tragic losses. Cornerback Darrent Williams was a member of the family, and he was loved by all his team mates. Running back Damien Nash had not yet had a chance to make his full mark on the team, but he showed promise. The team is playing for them.
It may sound corn-ball, but the team is on a mission. They are not doing a lot of talking about what they will do this year, but when the chin-straps get snapped into place on September 9th, the league will be on notice.
It has little to do with strategy or scheme. It has to do with heart. If there is one thing I have learned a lot about this past year, it is heart. I've seen courage, bravery, and heroism beyond what most can imagine this year. Realizing that football is only a game, it can have much more meaning than that when you look at the people who come and go. Losing a game is not a tragedy. But when you step into a locker room with 52 other professionals, and you set a goal, and you set out to achieve that goal in memory of a fallen comrade, it means a bit more to you than it does to the other team.
If the Broncos win it all this year, remember, they had a little bit more to play for than the rest of the league.
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