Questions surround the Denver Broncos. Von Miller suspended for six games. Offensive line in tatters. A mere suggestion of a running game.
These questions depress much of the state of Colorado. Following the Broncos serves as our state's collective obsession. Over most of the summer, the Broncos were clear favorites to ride to the Super Bowl, but now, as they prepare to tangle with the Ravens in the season opener, we're not so sure.
The Broncos have not resembled a Super Bowl team during the preseason, but here's a soothing thought as the opening kickoff approaches:
The past two Super Bowl champs often did not even resemble playoff teams.
The regular season is overrated. Over the past two seasons, the New England Patriots won 25 regular-season games. The Broncos won 21. The past two Super Bowl champs - the Giants and the Ravens - combined for 19 wins.
Heading into Christmas Eve in 2011, the Giants were 7-7 after enduring a three-game stretch in which their defense surrendered 123 points. The Giants looked unlikely to even make the playoffs.
In a four-game drive to the title, the Giants dropped the NFC's No. 2 seed (49ers) and No. 1 seed (Packers) before barely conquering the Patriots. The Giants once-porous defense allowed only 14 points per game in the playoffs. While the Giants struggled and bumbled, the Patriots enjoyed a breezy regular season.
Too breezy, as it turned out.
Last season, the Ravens opened the season with their best player, linebacker Terrell Suggs, sidelined with a torn Achilles tendon. Fellow linebacker Ray Lewis suffered from an ailment known as old age.
The Ravens stumbled through a stretch when they lost four of five games. They got pulverized by 30 points against the Texans. But the trials toughened the Ravens, who blended and revived when it mattered most.
Baltimore seemed to have no hope when it invaded Denver on Jan. 12. The Broncos, the AFC's No. 1 seed, had won 11 straight games.
Strange, but the Ravens played as if unaware they had not a chance. Suggs, after a shockingly rapid recovery, sacked Manning twice. Old man Lewis provided inspiration along with bone-rattling hits. And, yes, the Ravens got more than a little lucky when Broncos Rahim Moore lost track of Joe Flacco's towering pass in the final minute of regulation.
The Broncos enjoyed a smooth ride through most of the 2012 season. Too smooth. They averaged 31.8 points in those 13 victories. They enjoyed the great blessing of competing in the AFC West, which consisted of The Three Stooges (Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers) and the Broncos.
The good times failed to prepare the Broncos for the anarchy and violence the Ravens delivered on a wickedly cold Saturday afternoon in January.
Trouble is here for the Broncos. Miller is out until Oct. 20, when the Broncos play Manning's old team, the Colts. The offensive line is still jelling after a season-ending injury to center Dan Koppen. The Broncos cut creaky, injury-prone Willis McGahee, which was the right move, but no strong candidate has emerged to replace him at halfback.
And yet .
I see almost no possible way for the Broncos to miss the playoffs. Miller will return with fresh legs and extreme hunger to bury his past mistakes. Manning will lead an offense that should lead the NFL in scoring and passing yards.
While watching games this season, you'll probably see the Broncos suffer through a couple of beatings. The running game must improve. The pass rush will struggle with Miller gone, especially with his fellow sack master Elvis Dumervil residing in Baltimore.
Don't worry. The 2011 Giants and the 2012 Ravens proved an old adage is true:
Adversity is good for you.