Kyle Orton does not spend a lot of time worrying about what kind of speech he will give when he is enshrined in the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton. Truth be told, there aren’t many teams – if any – who would trade their starting quarterback straight up for Orton.
So it’s no surprise that Denver fans were simultaneously slapping their foreheads and shaking their heads when the Broncos acquired Orton in that dump-off deal of Jay Cutler to the Bears on the day after April Fool’s Day. A few years work spent developing Cutler into the next John Elway went down the drain when the petulant Cutler forced the trade, and Bronco fans spent all summer contemplating life with a rookie head coach and a starting quarterback that was lucky to have a job.
Funny how things work out. Cutler and the Bears are a missed Pittsburgh field goal away from an 0-2 start, while the Broncos have defied doomsayers coast to coast by jumping out 2-0 and assuming the early high ground in the dysfunctional AFC West. Denver is also 2-0 ATS heading into Sunday’s game at Oakland (Raiders -1).
And Orton? Well, he just seems to take it day by day. After the Broncos got lucky with that tipped pass/TD on the final play of the Cincinnati game, Orton and the Broncos stumbled around Invesco Field for most of the first half against Cleveland before turning on the afterburners in the second half. Orton finished at 19 for 37 for 263 yards and a touchdown, but in a Brady-like effort completed passes to nine different receivers.
Even if the Broncos get by Oakland on Sunday, they will likely cede control of the West to much-more-talented Chargers over the next month and a half. Denver takes on, in order, Dallas, New England, San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in consecutive weeks. There aren’t a lot of good teams that could survive that kind of stretch, and the Broncos are not yet a good team, despite better-than-expected results fueled by an improved defense.
For now, though, Orton – who Denver fans will be stunned to know has a better career wining percentage (.648) than Elway (.643) – will enjoy the good times. A guy who was expected to be a career backup in Chicago is getting a shot, and handling it pretty well.
Some heat in the Northeast
Granted, it’s in hushed tones and not widespread, but in New England there is criticism of Bill Belichick. A couple of bad drafts in the middle of the decade prevented the team from getting younger, and while the defensive numbers have been OK this season, the lack of playmakers is taking a toll and initial positive feedback from the Richard Seymour deal has quieted.
Belichick also is taking mild heat for some puzzling play-calling in the Jets loss (Fred Taylor had runs of 13 and 12 yards, then was relegated to the witness protection program).
The Pats give 4 to Atlanta in New England on Sunday.
Role reversals for Vikings and Niners?
What looked like a layup for the Vikings a few weeks ago has become anything but. San Francisco comes into Minnesota on Sunday in the only game on the docket matching 2-0 teams, and the 7-point line seems a bit heavy. The Niners can run the ball (Frank Gore averages 6.4 yards a carry) and are oozing confidence after beating the Cardinals in Arizona and the Seahawks at home.
SF has allowed only 53 yards a game on the ground and the Vikes have given up more than twice that. Toughest test yet for both teams.
Clock ticking on the Panthers
Does anyone have any idea what is going on in Carolina? The Panthers crawl into Dallas Monday night at 0-2 and in danger of becoming irrelevant in an NFC South that has been taken over by Atlanta and New Orleans. The defending division champs have basically the same team that went 12-4 last season but seem to have not yet recovered from that God-awful playoff loss at home to Arizona.
Oddsmakers are giving Carolina 9 and the number seems a bit high – especially considering that this is where the Panthers have to make a last stand before the season starts circling the toilet.
AFC division champs off to slow starts
It takes a month to shake down, of course, but the early going has been tough sledding for last year’s AFC division champions:
Miami (11-5 last season) is already off the tracks at 0-2. The Dolphins showed success with the Wildcat against Indy Monday night, but the bottom line is telling – two games, 30 points.
Tennessee (13-3) is also 0-2, and in the next month faces the Jets, division games against Jacksonville and Indianapolis, and New England.
Pittsburgh (12-4) was life and death on opening night against Tennessee, then with 10 days rest looked lifeless at times in a loss to the Bears.
San Diego (8-8) is 1-1 but should be 0-2. The Oakland win was a gift. The Chargers are in no danger in the talent-challenged AFC West, though.
Collectively, the four champs are 2-6. They are even worse against the spread at 1-7.