Believe it or not, folks, the NFL season is much closer than you can possibly imagine. So close, in fact, that, if we're going to fit in every NFL team preview by the start of the season, we have to go this early. So there you have it.
Last year, we asked some of our favorite writers to opine why Their Favorite Team Was Better Than Yours. Ultimately, we found this constrictive, and it also might have killed James Frey. So this time, we've just asked them to just run free, talk about their team, their experience as a fan, their hopes, their dreams, their desires for oral sex. All our teams are now assigned; if you sent us an email and we didn't get back to you, we're sorry, and we accept your scorn. But today: The Denver Broncos.
Your author is Brian Doolittle, who covers the NBA for The Roto Times, blogs with his brother and Kansas City Star sportswriter, Brad, at DoolittleBrothers.com and satisfies his addiction to classic rock my being the webmaster for K-Hits96. His words are after the jump.
(UPDATE: Your editor apologizes for screwing up the italics on this. Fixed now. Still Ankiel hungover.)
Most Broncos fans do not have an inflated negative perception about Jake Plummer's 54 starts for Denver over the past four seasons. After all, he had three above-average seasons before last season's painful struggle. But his downfall did become inevitable in 2006 and, unfortunately, I was there at Arrowhead Stadium (one of almost 81,000) on Thanksgiving Night, last November 23, to witness Plummer's final on-field breaths as an NFL starting QB.
It was an odd game; not so much for the crazy, colorful parking lot scene featuring deep fried turkeys and ample holiday intoxication, but for what Plummer did. He looked completely inept, defeated and frustrated. He made no significant plays. Yet somehow he went 25-for-39 for 216 yards. (I went 6-for-6 in drinking beers for 144 total ounces, four restroom trips and one inappropriate usage of a female port-a-potty). I was amazed when I saw the box score, but a slew of seven-yard completions on second- and third-and-long will do wonders to put some shine on a game recap. His QB rating of 76.4 in that game closely mirrors that of his career rating of 74.6. An appropriate ending to his 136th and last career start. He went 0-for-6 in KC.
But the disappointments of last season have faded thanks to second-year QB Jay Cutler and, really, because of one amazing play. In arguably the greatest pass in the history of organized football — or, at least, one of the NFL's best in recent seasons — Cutler showed he had some special ability. In his third start, Cutler launched a 64-yard TD pass to Javon Walker on the Broncos' third play of the game in a win over Arizona. The throw traveled 65 glorious yards in the air. He finished 21-for-31 with 261 yards. Cutler put up nice overall numbers in his five starts last season and is definitely now the focus of attention for Orange Crush Nation.
Though Denver went 9-7 in 2006, its season ended in cruel fashion. After an agonizing 26-23 overtime loss at home to the 49ers to improbably miss the playoffs, the Broncos' New Year's Eve would grow more painful as Darrent Williams was shot to death later that night. As it should, that tragedy has somewhat overshadowed the on-field disappointment.
But moving forward, there are plenty of reasons why the Broncos will go 19-0. Ooops. I do that every year. But 11-5 is very reasonable. Cutler is already an average NFL starting quarterback and will get better fast. He has Mike Bell and newcomer Travis Henry (1,211 yards for Tennessee in 2006) to run the ball and Javon Walker, newcomer Brandon Stokley and Brandon Marshall to catch the ball. Good enough for me. The offensive line should be solid, though their collective streak of not talking to the media may end at 12 years as the NFL is putting the pressure on.
"No more offensive linemen saying, 'We're not talking,' or 'We're going to appoint a spokesman for the week,"' said Greg Aiello, the NFL's public relations boss. "That will not be tolerated."
Defensively, it is troubling to see Al Wilson leave after eight spectacular seasons. But he's gone, so get used to the new man in the middle, Nate Webster. Outside linebacker Ian Gold is highly skilled and is now Denver's most-tenured defensive starter. To replace Williams — who was a legitimate, rising playmaker — Denver shipped Tatum Bell to Detroit for Dre Bly, who is a very similar player to what Williams was. The Denver secondary is among the league's elite with Bly, superstar Champ Bailey, Nick Ferguson and John Lynch. The Broncos allowed 326 yards per game last season, including 213 passing yards per game. So the secondary needs to be better.
Rod Smith, a 12-year Denver veteran, is questionable to return from hip surgery but is currently in camp. If you don't love Rod Smith, you don't love NFL football.
I have been a devoted fan of the Broncos since the glory days of Haven Moses, Rick Upchurch, Steve Watson, Sammy Winder, Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright and Tom Jackson among countless others. I even remember just a little Craig Morton; I jumped on board in 1978 at the age of five. Living in a remote area in Iowa until I was 12 years old allowed me free reign to choose my teams, since I had little geographical devotion to any teams. Plus, the Chiefs really sucked. But I've stuck with this thing, and after drafting Him in 1983, I have been glued to every single game — and very well rewarded. I regard the Mile High Stadium setting to be among the best in all sports. I also trust Mike Shanahan to maximize his team's abilities. With Cutler at the helm from the Game One, this will be a memorable season as Denver builds momentum for a 2008 Super Bowl run - and hopefully a 2007 playoff run.
Only one thing must not occur: Cutler getting hurt. Then we would have Patrick Ramsey to watch and our Sunday beer frenzies would turn quite sour.