Michael Lombardo: Denver is 5-0 this season, but those five wins include two victories over terrible teams; two narrow escapes in the friendly confines of Invesco Field; and a miracle in Cincinnati. All things considered, are the Denver Broncos a contender to not only make the playoffs, but to make some noise once there?
Michael John Schon: After all the offseason madness the Broncos encountered this year, it's a wonder they're even mentioned in the same sentence as "playoffs." Every scenario you laid out is correct, but the thing that impresses me most is they didn't fold it up against Dallas or New England despite being down most of the game.
Realistically, it's a two-team race for the AFC West and I think Denver's got a great shot at this stage of the game. Whether it's enough to make some noise is anybody's guess, but from my view they've outperformed every expectation up to this point, so I guess I'm drinking the Josh McDaniels Kool-Aid until they prove me wrong.
ML: Kyle Orton has played like an elite quarterback so far this season. Do you believe he is the long-term answer for Josh McDaniels?
QB Kyle Orton
Given the opportunity to snag a franchise quarterback who doesn't whine, throw fits, demand to be traded or have a really goofy haircut, I'm sure McDaniels would jump on it.??
ML: Brandon Marshall looks better than ever this season, which is scary since he had an 18-catch outing against the Chargers last season. Have any defenses been able to slow him down? If so, how did they pull that off?
MJS: The only one who's been able to stop Brandon Marshall this season is Brandon Marshall. When he's the focal point of McDaniels' offense, he's put up some sweet numbers; when he gets double-teamed, it opens up the Orton-Eddie Royal/Brandon Stokley connection, which adds another twist.
It's going to be a tough call when it comes to San Diego's coverage. You have to put Marshall on top of the list -- just don't forget about Tony Scheffler when nobody's looking.
ML: The offseason assumption was that Denver didn't have the personnel in place to make a smooth transition to a 3-4 defense. How has new coordinator Mike Nolan gotten the most of Denver's holdover players?
MJS: That's the million-dollar question. When the Broncos elected to roll with the personnel they had in-house, no one gave them a snowball's chance in Phoenix of pulling off what they have through the first five games of the season.
The jury's still out on whether it's Nolan's scheme or simply the fact that he's able to bring out the best in the players he's got. Either way, they're rolling with it in Denver and it seems to be working.??
WR Brandon Marshall
MJS: Denver's adversity started when McDaniels entered the picture. It continued through the Cutler fiasco, moving on to the Brandon Marshall meltdown when he didn't get a new contract and was suspended for behaving like a 5-year-old.
Dallas was supposed to be the first real test of the schedule and a follow-up with New England seemed almost insurmountable. Now, you've got Orton putting up career numbers behind the league's second-ranked defense, and they're headed into the site of last year's 52-21 Cutler & Co. season-ending meltdown. Undoubtedly, this is the biggest game of the season for both teams -- welcome to the rough patch.
ML: Who are some of Denver's key players in kick coverage? How do you think they'll fare against a talented return man like Darren Sproles?
MJS: One of Denver's glaring weaknesses has been special-teams coverage and Sproles could be in for a huge night if the Broncos can't find a way to get down the field a lot quicker than they've done so far.
McDaniels actually tossed out a few different lineups to try to correct this, including Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, but the problem is the kicks beat the coverage, and they're giving up close to 23 yards on kickoff returns and 10 yards on punt returns.
Now that I think of it, Denver's biggest threat may come from 5'10" kicker Matt Prater, which is a really scary thought. Suffice to say, I'm hoping it doesn't come down to special-teams play.