The Denver Broncos shocked the world by making the playoffs, and even winning a playoff game, last season. This year though, they’ll be lucky to finish at 8-8. A record of 7-9 or 6-10 is highly likely. Here are five reasons why the Broncos will disappoint in 2012.
1. THE SCHEDULE
The Broncos have the toughest schedule in the AFC, facing teams that had a combined 2011 win-loss record of 139-117 (.543).
Not including Denver’s games against their AFC West foes, their 2012 opponents were a whopping 93-67 (.581) in 2011. To compare, the 2011 Carolina Panthers, who have had the toughest strength of schedule of the past three seasons, faced teams with a combined winning percentage of .555.
Outside of the AFC West, the Broncos have home games against the Steelers (Week 1), Texans (Week 3), Saints (Week 8), Bucs (Week 13), and Browns (Week 16).
The Steelers will be geared up to crush the Broncos after being upset by the Tebow-led Broncos in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs last season. The Texans look to be one of the best teams in the conference. And the Saints, despite all their offseason troubles, are still a playoff-caliber team with the second best quarterback in football.
The Broncos won’t have things any easier on the road with games against the Falcons (Week 2), Patriots (Week 5), Bengals (Week 9), Panthers (Week 10), and Ravens (Week 15). That’s four 2011 playoff teams and a Cam Newton-led Panthers squad that will be competitive in 2012.
In total, 7 of Denver’s 10 non-divisional games are against 2011 playoff teams. The schedule-makers weren’t too kind when it comes to the order of the Broncos’ games either.
After opening home against the Steelers, the Broncos travel to Atlanta, return home for games against the Texans and Raiders, then head to New England and San Diego. By their Week 7 bye, they could easily be 1-5. Returning from their bye with a bang isn’t likely since their next two games are home against the Saints and in Cincinnati.
2. PEYTON MANNING WILL NOT BE PEYTON MANNING
The Denver Broncos didn’t get the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning that annihilated opposing defenses with pinpoint accuracy and precision before missing the 2011 Season. They got a 36-year old quarterback who sat out an entire season with a nerve injury in his neck.
While it’s reported that Manning is zipping footballs around like he used to, the real test will be seeing how he responds when he’s slammed to the turf during an actual NFL game. Then, seeing how he responds when he’s sacked again. And again. And again. And again.
No matter how tough Manning is and how much he wants to succeed, he simply will not be the same quarterback he was before being forced to undergo four neck procedures.
Manning might be good, most likely even above-average, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to carry his team like the NFL’s best QBs, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, do.
3. THE BRONCOS WON'T BE AS LUCKY AS THEY WERE LAST SEASON
Luck—Tebow magic—you can call it whatever you want; the bottom line is that the Broncos had it last year.
Seven of Broncos’ eight wins in the 2011 Regular Season were by seven points or less. Half of their victories were by a margin of three or fewer points. Of Denver’s eight loses, they lost by 14 points or more five times. In other words, the Broncos were 7-3 in close games and if they didn’t eek out a win, they were typically crushed.
Many of the games the Broncos emerged victorious in were won in an unbelievable fashion, game-winning field goals in overtime, Tebow-led magical drives in the fourth quarter and OT—it was truly amazing. If the Broncos had won half of their close games, which would be expected, they would’ve finished 6-10.
The Broncos last victory of the season was a stunning upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. In overtime, Tebow hooked up with Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown that took only 11 seconds off the clock. It was the fastest overtime ending in the history of the league.
Odd are, the Broncos won’t have the good fortune they did last season this time around. It really has nothing to do with Tim Tebow (and his supposed “magic”) and more to do with the fact that the bigger sample size you look at, in this case the more games played, the more things will balance out.
4. WILLIS MCGAHEE IS OLD
Willis McGahee had a surprising year for the Broncos in 2011. He finished with over 1,000 yards for the first time since 2007 and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, the second best average of his entire career. Now though, McGahee is starting out this season the wrong side of 30.
Also, the threat of the quarterback running the ball himself is completely gone. While all eyes used to be on Tim Tebow during Broncos’ running downs, those same eyes will now be locked in on McGahee, who has always been far from elusive. Considering this fact, and McGahee’s age, his average yards per carry will likely drop to just below his career average of 4.1.
After McGahee, the Broncos are not particularly strong at running back. Expect the very mediocre Lance Ball to claim the backup spot over the often-injured Knowshon Moreno. Rookie Ronnie Hillman has speed and a good deal of talent, but lacks the size to be an every-down back.
5. THE CHIEFS WILL BE GREATLY IMPROVED
The Broncos don’t need a great record to reach the postseason; they only need the best record in the AFC West, the worst division in the conference. This is how they made the playoffs in 2011—sneaking in at 8-8, beating out the also 8-8 Chargers and Raiders thanks to tie-breakers. The Chiefs finished a game behind at 7-9.
Unfortunately for Denver, 8-8 won’t cut it in 2012 because the Chiefs will be better. Much better. The Chiefs will be getting back one of their best defensive players, Eric Berry, and one of their best offensive players, Jamaal Charles, after losing both to injury in 2011. Tight end Tony Moeaki, who missed all of last season, will also be returning. After playing only nine games in 2011, Matt Cassel will be good to go and ready to connect with one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL, Dwayne Bowe.
The Chiefs have the best defense in the AFC West, finishing No. 11 in total defense in 2011. They let up an average of just 11 points over the final three games of last season, including a 19-14 victory against the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers.
The Chiefs also benefit from having the West’s worst record in 2011. While the Broncos must face the Patriots and Texans, the Chiefs get rewarded with contests against the Bills and Colts.
Look for the Chiefs, one year removed from 10-6 and a division title, to reclaim the AFC West crown. Better luck next year, Denver.