Any conversation these days about the Denver Broncos quickly veers to one question: Are they good enough to win the Super Bowl this time?
After two lopsided victories wherein they scored 90 points against two recent Super Bowl champions — Baltimore and the New York Giants — many are viewing the Broncos as fully deserving of the ultimate speculation. If this keeps up, say some already-delirious fans, the Broncos could even have a shot at the NFL's first perfect season since the Miami Dolphins in 1972.
Don't count on it.
Sure, Denver has many positive ingredients for a long run this season. Quarterback Peyton Manning looks sharper than ever, the defense doesn't appear to be missing suspended star pass-rusher Von Miller, the special teams (led by returner Trindon Holliday) are breaking big plays, and, perhaps most significantly, running back Knowshon Moreno has emerged to lead the ground game and take the heat off Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, neither of whom is ready to shoulder that load.
In fact, if you ask me, Moreno's confidence-building touchdown runs of 20 and 25 yards Sunday were the most impressive moments in Denver's 41-23 road victory against the Giants.
But let's not lose sight of reality here. Neither the Giants nor the Ravens are close to playoff-caliber at this point. And yet, Denver still was clinging to a precarious 17-16 lead in the final minute of the third quarter Sunday before finally exploding.
Let's also take account of something else: As pathetic as the AFC West was last year, allowing the Broncos to sleepwalk to the division title, the group has improved markedly this season. In fact, all four AFC West teams won Sunday, which hasn't happened in recent memory. Kansas City, revived by new coach Andy Reid, is 2-0 and dangerous. San Diego could be 2-0 but still is 1-1 after a stunning win at Philadelphia. Oakland, thought to be a doormat, is 1-1 and making noise with an improved defense.
Denver has to visit all three, and the chances of sweeping every division game are looking less likely by the week. Throw in the other road trips to Dallas, New England, Houston and Indianapolis, and you have a schedule that will be filled with land mines after the next two home games against Oakland and Philadelphia.
Something else: All the Broncos' hopes revolve around avoiding major injuries. Manning has to stay healthy, and so does Moreno now that Ball and Hillman are both exposed as fumblers. Ball's early bobble, botching what had been a terrific game-opening drive against the Giants, might land him in the doghouse for a while. Granted, Denver's receiving corps will drive any NFL defense crazy, but only if the offensive line can protect well. And it wasn't a good sign Sunday to see left tackle Ryan Clady injuring his foot, and guard Louis Vasquez badly beaten more than once.
Defensively, the patchwork front seven has been good so far, but remember that the Giants have no running game, and that the Ravens were leading Denver at halftime. So it's better to reserve judgment until we see how the Broncos' defense can fare the next two weeks against mobile quarterbacks, the Raiders' Terrelle Pryor and the Eagles' Michael Vick. Also, who knows if Von Miller can avoid having his suspension extended, after his latest legal troubles.
From this view, facing a much stronger division should turn into a positive, forcing Denver to endure more legitimate tests along the way. But if you're wondering whether this team already is destined to play for the NFL championship on Feb. 2, well, stop — at least for now.