Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
Are the Broncos for real? The NFL Blog Network breaks down each of the seven teams that started the season 3-0.
What they’ve accomplished: The Broncos are one of the most intriguing of the seven teams to go undefeated thus far. Many around the league thought it would take Denver all season to win three games after a tumultuous offseason. But the Broncos have been outstanding in the early going. No, they haven't conquered world-beaters as they defeated Cincinnati (on a miraculous last-second play), Cleveland and Oakland. But any win in the NFL is impressive and two of the Broncos’ victories have come on the road. Denver absolutely dominated Cleveland and Oakland. The Broncos are playing fantastic defense and have allowed a league-low 16 points. The defense is much improved and it appears to be very physical. Offensively, new head coach Josh McDaniels has his system working. It is playing timely offense, fueled by a strong running game. The Broncos make few mistakes and are very prepared. It’s early, but Denver is clicking.
What’s ahead: We’re going to find out if Denver is a contender or a pretender in the coming weeks. Denver faces top teams in eight of its next 10 contests. It also plays at Philadelphia in Week 16. Denver's next five games are at home against Dallas and New England and on the road at San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Games against the New York Giants and Indianapolis also loom. I guess the 1972 Dolphins and 1985 Bears were busy. This is a tough stretch and the Broncos know it. But Denver is confident, well-prepared and McDaniels knows a lot about playing in pressure games. The team is healthy and it feels like it can navigate this stretch competitively.
Realistic outcome: It is very difficult to expect the Broncos to run through this schedule without difficulty. But early success gives Denver some breathing room. If Denver goes 5-5 in the next 10 games it will be 8-5 and probably in the playoff mix heading to the stretch run. Denver has to keep winning at home and steal a couple of road games. It has to take advantage of its two remaining games against Kansas City and its home game against Oakland. Denver can’t stumble in winnable games. If Denver can stay healthy, I think it can stay in the race. This doesn’t look like a team that will fall apart. I think it will only get better under McDaniels. Realistically, the Broncos can be a factor in the playoff race.