When a team loses its second-best player, that's always bad news. There's no way to spin the Broncos losing Von Miller -- the linebacker was suspended for six games on Tuesday -- in a positive light. But the good news for Denver is that it'll survive the suspension and still manage to make the playoffs.
How? Simply put: Peyton Manning. OK it's a little more complicated than that, but Manning covers up a lot of flaws on other parts of a roster.
Like the rest of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and perhaps even more so, Manning changes the game for the team he's playing for. He tilts the scales in favor of the Broncos so much that they can handle the loss of Miller, the team's best defensive player and second-best player overall.
If you need further proof of this, may I suggest peeking at the Colts during Manning's tenure there? Sure he had Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis rushing the passer (and for a while, other quality/high-end defensive players like Bob Sanders) but it was Manning who propelled the Colts to double-digit win totals. He can -- and will -- have the same effect in Denver.
Besides, the Broncos were probably going to struggle on defense anyway. Bill Barnwell of Grantland penned a great piece here about their health last year. It's something you can't overlook, especially with Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe and Stewart Bradley all injured, Elvis Dumervil "gone" for the year (and, well, forever) and Miller guaranteed to miss at least six games right off the bat.
But Manning doesn't even have to provide extra non-Von points during the full season. He only has to beef it up for six games while Miller is suspended. And have you seen the six games on the Broncos schedule? They play the Ravens, Giants, Raiders, Eagles, Cowboys and Jaguars. Pencil in Baltimore and either New York or Dallas as a loss and there's still a very good chance the Broncos are 4-2 when they get Miller back.
I'm not in the business of trying to guarantee that a good team won't lose to a crappy team, especially when they're missing one of their top two players. But I'm confident that Manning + Demaryius Thomas + Eric Decker = wins over the Raiders and Jaguars. (My colleague Ryan Wilson made an interesting point on our podcast Tuesday night too: will Chip Kelly's offense work in the mile-high air of Denver? Or will Michael Vick be sucking on an oxygen mask by the second quarter?)
So let's say worst case is 2-4 with Miller coming back against the Colts in Week 7. That's very much not good for Denver, but it's not that far off where they were last year. Remember, the Broncos were 2-3 and losing 24-0 to the Chargers at halftime on Monday night of Week 6. They stormed back on San Diego -- thanks Philip Rivers! -- won that game and didn't lose for the rest of the year. No one remembers that now because it's just more convenient to remember that Manning ran an unstoppable juggernaut all season. That wasn't actually the case.
And then there's the trump card for the Broncos. Their division. It's a steaming, retched pile of rebuild at the moment and the Broncos are going to win it, provided a) they don't start 0-6 and b) Manning stays healthy.
You could make a convincing argument that the Raiders and Chargers are the two worst teams in the NFL this year. Nothing you say will convince me, however, that Denver will go anything other than 4-0 against those teams. Unless Manning's sitting in Week 15 (San Diego) and Week 17 (at Oakland) because they've already got the division wrapped up.
Kansas City's going to cause Denver problems and could very well make a run in the AFC West, but with three of their four first games against NFC East teams, well, let's not assume they're going to be in better shape once Miller returns from suspension.
The long and the short of it is this: The Broncos are losing one of their best players and there's never a good time to have that happen. But if you're going to lose a great player, you want to have one of the five best quarterbacks in the league to help save you, you want to have a cushy schedule early on and you want to play in a really bad division.
Fortunately for Denver it meets those requirements. Which is why it'll be just fine while Miller's missing.
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