Last season was largely one the Denver Broncos organization would like to forget. This new season brings change, optimism, and hope; but will the product on the field be good enough to get out of the NFL's bottom tier?

Things were doomed from the beginning last season as they lost one of their marquee players, 2009 NFL sack champion Elvis Dumervil, to a pectoral tear in the preseason. The Broncos then became mired in "Spygate II", which was the eventual unraveling of the former head coach whose name shall not be mentioned.

Pair that with an offense that couldn't run the ball effectively (26th YPG in NFL) and sputtered in the red zone, and a historically horrid defense (32nd out of 32 in PPG, YPG, Sacks, 31st in Rushing), and its no surprise the Broncos ended up with the 2nd overall pick in the draft this past spring.

New V.P. of Football Operations John Elway, holdover GM Brian Xanders and new head coach John Fox, aren't concerned about the past however, they are looking forward to the 2011 season and a quick turnaround. "This year is 2011, last year was 2010; that's why they call it last year. Everybody is starting 0-0." Fox was quoted by the Denver Post as saying recently.

EFX believes they have the talent on the roster this year to compete for the AFC West title and a playoff berth.
They added exciting OLB Von Miller with that second pick, as well as S Rahim Moore and RT Orlando Franklin, getting three starters out of the draft, but will growing pains and a lack of depth on both lines keep them from making a leap? Lets take a look at their schedule in four quarters to find out.

First Quarter 
9/12      vs. Oakland Raiders
9/18      vs. Cincinnati Bengals
9/25      @  Tennessee Titans
10/2      @  Green Bay Packers

If the Broncos want to have a shot at contending down the stretch, they need to get off to a fast start. Avenging the embarrassing 59-14 home defeat to the Raiders in Week 1 won't be easy but they should get it done. Cincinnati & Tennessee are teams that will fight for relevancy this year and Denver's revamped running game should lead them past both. That's right, a 3-0 start is attainable and really a must. Week 4 at Lambeau against the reigning Super Bowl belt-holders will be a tough hill to climb and it doesn't get much easier.  Verdict: 3-1 through 4 games.

Second Quarter 
10/9       vs. San Diego Chargers
10/23     @  Miami Dolphins
10/30     vs. Detroit Lions
11/6       @  Oakland Raiders

The Chargers & Lions travel to Mile High this quarter and the Broncos pack their bags for road games in the "Black Hole" and in front of 30,000 of Miami's finest. San Diego is the popular pick to win the AFC West after leading the NFL in offense & defense last year yet finishing 9-7, and Detroit could get over the hump if Matt Stafford can stay on the field. Denver's crowd helps them win one, but not both. They should also split the road games, beating a transitioning Dolphins team that's hoping Reggie Bush is their new identity, but not getting the season sweep on the hated Raiders. Verdict: 2-2 (5-3 overall)

Third Quarter 
11/13      @ Kansas City Chiefs
11/17     vs. New York Jets
11/27     @  San Diego Chargers
12/4       @  Minnesota Vikings

The Third quarter starts at Arrowhead, where the Chiefs will be fighting for their season and claw out a W.  A quick turnaround for the Thursday night game against the Jets spells trouble, even at home and then road trips to San Diego and the Twin Cities make this a tough stretch. Denver steals one on the road against division rival San Diego. As I was recently reminded at a family member's wedding, "There is no football in San Diego." (Thanks, Jess!). Verdict: 1-3 (6-6 overall)

 Fourth Quarter 
12/11     vs.  Chicago Bears
12/18     vs.  New England Patriots
12/24     @   Buffalo Bills
1/1         vs.  Kansas City Chiefs

The final stretch begins with back to back 2010 division winners Chicago & New England. The Mile High crowd will not let former Broncos pouty-poster boy Jay Cutler beat them, but Tom Brady& Co. have other plans. Showing their youth, the Broncos let one get away from them in Buffalo in a snowstorm, but are able to hold off the stumbling Chiefs at home in the season finale. Verdict: 2-2 (8-8 overall)

Final Analysis:

The Denver Broncos will be a much improved and more competitive team in 2011. They will improve upon their dismal 2010 Hog Indexes (25th Offense, 29th Defense), although both lines still lack depth. New defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will take advantage of the return of Elvis and addition of Miller, attacking in the tune of his mentor, Greg Williams. They should greatly improve their 30th ranked defensive passer rating of 93.6 from a year ago, as well as the passer rating differential, which was -6.27 in 2010 (19th).  They will be competitive in every game on the schedule, but won't have the experience to close games out and make the big plays needed to get them back in black. Climbing back to the middle of the pack with a .500 record is a welcome step in the right direction, positioning the team to take another step in 2012.