Despite all the bad press and the endless predictions of potential problems, the Denver Broncos will be fine if Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller ultimately is suspended for the first four games of this season.
They still have Peyton Manning playing quarterback. They still have a schedule that ranks as the easiest in the NFL. They also have that proverbial chip on their shoulders, the one that has been sitting there since they flopped in last year's playoffs.
As disheartening as the news of Miller's impending suspension had to be for the Broncos organization -- and he's currently appealing the punishment for allegedly violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- these are facts that can't be denied. The AFC remains so weak that a Denver team that is the clear-cut class of the conference could overcome even his absence.
There would've been more legitimate concern had Miller been lost to injury or during a more critical stretch of the season. But one glance at the Broncos' September lineup reveals that they will survive his possible loss without much concern.
For those who believe the Baltimore Ravens pose a substantial threat in the season opener because they are the defending Super Bowl champions, think again. That game will be played in Denver, and the Ravens won't be nearly as scary as they were at the end of last season. Baltimore is replacing several key leaders (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk and Anquan Boldin) and dependable playmakers (Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Bernard Pollard). This team, one that nobody was hyping when last year's postseason began, has 9-7 written all over it.
Broncos fans also shouldn't be quivering at the thought of Denver facing Philadelphia and Oakland in Weeks 3 and 4. Those teams combined for six wins last season, and it's hard to see them drastically improving this fall. The only real disappointment here could be Miller's lost opportunity to pad his stats. Between the uncertainty surrounding the Eagles' quarterback situation and the questions about new Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn, Miller could've set sack records in those contests.
That leaves only a Week 2 road trip to the New York Giants as the most imposing sight on Denver's early schedule, and this much we know right now: There is no way Peyton is going to drop a game to his younger brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, under any circumstances.
Miller's presence would be most vital in this contest, because the Giants allowed a league-low 20 sacks in 2012. But again, this will be a game decided by which Manning brother is at his best. The smart money is always on Peyton in those scenarios.
So the real question about Miller's suspension shouldn't focus on how Denver will fare without him. It should be a matter of how he will grow if he actually does sit for four games. The Broncos were counting on Miller to blossom into their undisputed defensive leader this season. As productive as he's been in his first two seasons -- he's amassed 30 sacks since entering the league in 2011 -- he'd never been asked to set the tone in the locker room until now.
Denver always had other strong personalities to be guiding influences. Safety Brian Dawkins was one such player during Miller's rookie season. Cornerback Champ Bailey has been a quiet, calming force for years, and former defensive end Elvis Dumervil (now in Baltimore) was a Pro Bowl performer despite being undersized.
All Miller had to do was compete during his first two seasons. If the stories about him are true (the Denver Post reported he had tested positive for marijuana and amphetamines earlier in his career), he didn't realize how much damage he could do to his career with bad decisions.
Those expectations will be critical to the player Miller becomes going forward. If anything, this issue could become a huge turning point in his career. If he really was being immature in the past, he's now about to grow up in a hurry. If he didn't know what it felt like to damage his reputation and have people question his character, he's now found ample reason to show critics what he's really about when adversity strikes.
In short, the leader Miller had been planning on becoming may actually emerge in the wake of this bad news. He already had been taking the necessary steps to set a positive example for his teammates, including gaining more muscle and returning to Denver early to train with the Broncos' strength and conditioning coaches. Miller also was setting the proper tone publicly. Though some laughed when he predicted on Twitter that Denver would win this year's Super Bowl, such confidence was noteworthy, particularly for a player who had watched his team implode against the Ravens in last year's AFC divisional playoff loss.
Don't think for a minute that Miller has forgotten those plans or that tweet. If anything, he's probably found more incentive to make good on his desire to help the Broncos win their first title since general manager John Elway was playing quarterback. Yes, Denver will have to ask more of other players, including newcomers such as outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. But all championship-caliber teams must do that at some point if they hope to win it all.
The 2012 Ravens are the perfect example of that. They lost key players such as Lewis, Terrell Suggs and cornerback Lardarius Webb at various points last season, and somehow persevered to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February. All the Broncos have to do is find a way to take three winnable games at home without a player who is likely to be more hyped than ever to get back on the field, should he be suspended.
If that's as bad it gets in Denver, the Broncos will be right where they want to be by season's end.