The Broncos entered last season with optimism. They had barely missed the playoffs a year ago, losing in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers in a game that would have clinched their fourth-straight postseason berth. Though the loss was disappointing, many looked at the end of their season as a valuable learning experience for rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, who started the final five games.
Coming into 2007, Cutler was widely expected to take the next step in his development. With key offseason additions like running back Travis Henry and cornerback Dre Bley, Denver fully expected to jump back into the playoff picture.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, things just didn’t work out as they’d hoped.
After Denver won their first two games on last-second Jason Elam field goals, they promptly lost three straight going into the bye week. From there, the remaining 11 games of their season were marred by inconsistency. The Broncos would look solid against teams like Pittsburgh and Tennessee, only to get blown out by the likes of Detroit and Houston.
Cutler played well in his second year, but the rest of the team stopped holding up their end of the bargain. Opponents began running all over the Broncos’ once-solid defense. And Denver’s vaunted rushing attack, hurt by age and injuries along the offensive line, failed to produce a 1,000-yard runner for the first time in several years.
The Broncos finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Arguably Denver’s biggest move of the offseason was the trade for defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, the fourth overall pick of the 2003 draft. They also added linebacker Boss Bailey, wide receivers Darrell Jackson and Keary Colbert, and running back Michael Pittman in free agency.
The Broncos also added some familiar AFC West faces. Former Chiefs Casey Wiegmann and Samie Parker, as well as former Chargers safety Marlon McCree, found new homes in Denver.
Two years after trading a second-round draft pick for his services, Denver released wide receiver Javon Walker. And just one year after signing Travis Henry to a five-year contract, the Broncos released the troubled running back.
Along the offensive line, left tackle Matt Lepsis announced his retirement. The Broncos also traded starting guard Chris Myers to the Houston Texans.
All things considered, the team’s biggest loss may have come in the kicking game. After playing 15 years with the Broncos, Jason Elam signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.
The Broncos had nine picks in the 2008 draft.
Round 1: Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
Round 2: Eddie Royal, WR, Virginia Tech
Round 4: Kory Lichtensteiger, C, Bowling Green
Round 4: Jack Williams, CB, Kent State
Round 5: Ryan Torain, RB, Arizona State
Round 5: Carlton Powell, DT, Virginia Tech
Round 6: Spencer Larson, LB, Arizona
Round 7: Josh Barrett, S, Arizona State
Round 7: Peyton Hills, FB, Arkansas
Any AFC West team with designs on winning the division must deal with the San Diego Chargers. The bad news for Denver is that they haven’t beaten San Diego since a Week 2 victory in 2005.
Worse yet, they haven’t even come close in recent efforts. In two games last season, the Broncos lost to the Chargers by a combined score of 64-6.
Things have gone better against the Raiders, who Denver swept in 2005 and 2006. But after two years of Bronco dominance, last season’s squad came dangerously close to getting swept themselves. After squeaking out a controversial overtime win in Week 2 – the game where a Mike Shanahan timeout negated Oakland’s winning field goal – Denver’s trip to the black hole ended in defeat.
The only real bright spot for the Broncos in the AFC West last year came against the Chiefs. The two teams have split their season series since 2003, but the Broncos won both contests in 2007, including a dominating 41-7 victory in Denver.
The Broncos went 3-3 in the division a year ago. With the Chargers a tough a hurdle to overcome, Denver will likely hover around the .500 mark again as the rest of the division battles for second place.
NEXT TIME: optimism, concern, and predictions.
AFC West Preview: San Diego Chargers, Part I
AFC West Preview: San Diego Chargers, Part II