Broncos facing tough challenges in 2005

Aug 8, 2005 1:56 AM

Mike Shanahan has won 108 games and two Super Bowls in just 10 years with the Broncos. However, coming off two straight first round blowout losses in the playoffs, this could be a make or break season.

The betting news is good and bad early. In September, Denver is 9-2-1 against the spread in the last 12 division games. AFC West rivals San Diego and Kansas City come to Invesco Field for Week 2 and 3 respectively.

Unfortunately, the Broncos open the season at Miami on Sept. 11. The Dolphins are 15-2 ATS in the last 17 games vs. AFC West opponents. The usual September heat definitely favors the warm-weather Fish, known for fast starts.

Jake Plummer will again lead the offense. While the former Arizona State QB is not John Elway, his skills have often been compared to Joe Montana. Plummer is capable, leading the Broncos to a 10-7 record last year. But Denver’s pass defense was shredded, especially in the playoffs when the Colts breezed 49-24 at Indy as a 10-point favorite.

Thus, Broncos management drafted defensive backs with the top three picks. Denver has always been able to run the football, allowing the opportunity to take a chance on Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett in the third round. Rumor has it that Clarett will pass Ron Dayne on the depth chart and make the opening game roster. Mike Anderson is currently the No. 1 tailback.

This could be the year former Hawaii standout WR Ashley Lelie steps up and has a career season. All-Pro Rod Smith has been outstanding for years, but he and Plummer need someone else to step up in the receiving corps.

The defense really isn’t that bad, holding opponents below 20 points in 10 of 16 regular season contests last year. But, Denver was just 6-7-3 ATS — its fourth consecutive losing record against the line.

The Broncos suffered a blow in preseason practice when often-injured defensive lineman Courtney Brown hurt his left elbow and is expected to be sidelined from 3-to-6 weeks. Brown was the No. 1 draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2000 and was acquired by the Broncos in the offseason.

GT prediction: Shanahan has his work cut out. The schedule is difficult and the AFC West has improved from top to bottom. Some team has to fall back in the division. We believe Denver is the likely choice, finishing out of the playoffs.