Adversity a boon for Broncos

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If a poll had been taken prior to this year’s NFL season asking which team would lead the AFC West at the halfway point, there would have been fewer votes for the Kansas City Chiefs than the amount of groceries you’re allowed to have in the express lane.

The Chiefs were a poor excuse of a team last year. They were Oliver Twist poor. They were news reporter salary poor. They were just plain poor.

But what a difference a year makes.

In less time than it takes to thrust a tomahawk chop, the Chiefs have gone from being the worst team in the NFL last year to having the league’s the best record so far this season.

So the Denver Broncos now have some competition in pursuit of the AFC West title this year — and that’s the best thing that could have happened to the team in orange.

After a bumpy 2-3 start last year, the Broncos steamrolled the 11 remaining games, piling up an astronomical 346 points, while allowing just 175.

The Broncos’ dismantling of just about every team they came across made for some big-time Sunday yawners last year. Seriously, I found myself switching from Broncos games to “Antiques Roadshow” replays, simply for the sake of getting a little drama in my life.

And seeing Denver’s AFC West rivals pitifully try to keep pace with the Broncos high-octane scoring machine was like watching Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice chase after Burt Reynolds in “Smokey in the Bandit.”

Like Sheriff Justice, AFC teams would mutter, “What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law,” as Denver whizzed up and down the field, scoring at will.

The Broncos went 6-0 against the Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders last year, three teams that had a combined record of 13-35.

But Denver paid a mighty big price in the playoffs for their stroll-in-the-park-like schedule last year, when the battle-tested Baltimore Ravens came to the Mile High City and shocked the football world.

But while the Broncos have won their share of blowouts this season, they’ve also had games where they’ve been tested. And I have a feeling that’s going to be the case the rest of the way, for the team’s betterment.

In five of Denver’s eight games this year, the Broncos have either been trailing, tied or slightly ahead at halftime. The win against Dallas was a nail-biting shootout, while the Broncos had to rebound from a 21-7 3rd quarter deficit in their win against Washington.

And, of course, we all know what happened in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, thank you very much, Ronnie Hillman.

Heading into the second half of the season, the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders already have more combined wins (16) than they had all of last year. And the AFC West has more wins than any other division in football.

It’s not just the vastly-improved Chiefs that are providing more competition for Denver. Last year, throws by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers missed Chargers receivers more times than Von Miller has missed court dates. But this year, Rivers seems revived under new head coach Mike McCoy, the former Broncos offensive coordinator.

And even the Raiders — yes, the Raiders! — are playing decent football, a team that is capable of pulling off a few upsets in the second half of the season.

Three of Broncos’ next four games are on the road and their schedule in that stretch is brutal: at San Diego, Kansas City, at New England and at Kansas City.

So Denver has its work cut out for them this year. And that’s a very good thing. Cakewalks may look nice on a Candy Land board game, but they don’t mean a thing once the postseason comes around.

And the Broncos’ playoff opponents are certain to be more capable of catching them than Buford T. Justice.

In addition to writing sports columns, Vic Vela covers the Legislature for Colorado Community Media. He can be reached at vvela@ourcoloradonews.com, or follow Vic on Twitter: @VicVela1.