SCOUTING REPORT

The Denver Broncos haven't had a lot of success since they won back-to-back Super Bowl titles with John Elway at quarterback in the late 1990s, but this appears to the year they are back among the elite teams in the AFC.

Off to a 4-1 start, the Broncos look like one of the top contenders to come out of the AFC and represent the conference in the Super Bowl.

Cris Collinsworth said this week on HBO's "Inside The NFL" that he considered Denver and Miami — and not the undefeated Oakland Raiders — the most likely teams to win the AFC title.

That's pretty heady stuff. But then again, the Broncos have been pretty impressive so far this season, primarily because of a rejuvenated defense.

Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, who earned a couple of head-coaching opportunities because of his work on defense, has built his defense around a speedy group of linebackers who get to roam free because of the work of massive defensive tackles.

Sound familiar? Yes, it's very much what the Dolphins like to do.

In Denver's case, the two big guys inside are Chester McGlockton and Lional Dalton. The key here is McGlockton, who is as good a defensive lineman as there is in the NFL if he feels like playing.

The linebackers — Ian Gold, Al Wilson and John Mobley — are all fast, probably even more so than the Dolphins' starting trio of Zach Thomas, Derrick Rodgers and Morlon Greenwood.

The Denver secondary would be the one weak link on defense, although former first-round pick Deltha O'Neal has a knack for coming up with big plays — he returned a pick for a touchdown against San Diego last Sunday, for example.

Opponents simply have not been able to run against Denver this season, with the Broncos holding their foes to a paltry 3.2 yards per carry.

On the other side of the ball, nothing has changed in Denver. The offensive line is still good, although many will tell you it's also dirty, in particular Dan Neil and Matt Lepsis on the right side.

The bottom line is that the line opens up a lot of room for their running backs, and the Broncos have a dandy rookie in former University of Miami star Clinton Portis, a second-round pick with a lot of speed.

The passing game features a lot of veteran receivers, from Shannon Sharpe to Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith. Those guys are not pure burners, but they know how to get open and they make plays.

Sharpe, for example, could present an interesting challenge if the Dolphins decide to stick Thomas on him.

Quarterback Brian Griese is an unspectacular but efficient passer who is very good at play-action fakes. He's a lot like Jay Fiedler in the sense that he's more a complementary player on the offense, and his team doesn't want to be in a position where he has to win the game.

The Denver special teams have been nothing special so far this season. Kicker Jason Elam is a Pro Bowler, but he has missed four of his first 10 attempts.


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